How to Be Famous

Caitlin Moran. Harper, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-243377-0

Moran’s rollicking second novel (after How to Build a Girl) characteristically combines nonstop witticisms with razor-sharp, pointed, and timely cultural critique. Johanna Morrigan (pen name Dolly Wilde) is making her way at 19 in mid-’90s London writing for a music magazine and intent on cultural and sexual adventure. As her ambition and wit propel her further into the world of celebrity in the age of Britpop, she encounters unexpected triumphs, but also challenges: workplace harassment; sexual imbalances of power; and the outsized role of gender in art and criticism, fame and fandom. Moran’s depiction of London is detailed and exuberant, and a convincing backdrop for her unflinching exploration of these issues (though the language used to describe them sometimes seems anachronistically plucked straight from 2018 and #MeToo). Better still, her characters are madcap and lovable but nuanced enough to feel real: Dolly’s friend Suzanne is strident and wise but also self-centered and irresponsible; her family is loyal but dysfunctional; and her true but unrequited love, John Kite, is a sweet and genuine musical talent who poorly manages his newfound fame. With Dolly, Moran has created an excellent heroine that readers will enjoy spending a summer day with. (July)