Thursday 31 March 2016

Book Review: How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, passionate Cathy; but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob, while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that’s when Samantha realised that all her life she’d been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane. So she decided to look again at her heroines – the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live.

How To Be A Heroine is Samantha’s funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives – and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.

I read How To Be A Heroine as part of my two reading challenges - the Nonfiction Reading Challenge and the Eclectic Reader Challenge, which asked for a 'book about books'. Being an avid reader I was drawn to the premise of Ellis' book; I think it's a fascinating idea to go back and re-read novels you enjoyed in your youth to see if you view the characters differently with adult eyes. And I can certainly relate to the idea that characters in novels become as important to you as your real-life friends, especially when you read books as an adolescent. That's the beauty of fiction - authors create characters that can come alive on the page and readers get to use their imagination to give these characters form.

Ellis' book is well-written. It was interesting reading about characters and novels that I haven't thought about in years. It was fun to think back on my own first reading of Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind etc, remembering how much those books meant to me. I especially liked how Ellis re-read fairy tales from a feminist perspective. It's always good to be reminded of the absurdity of these stories- eg: the Little Mermaid gives up her legs and her voice, all for a man. Ridiculous!

I must admit, however, that I ended up skipping a few chapters in this book. Some of these were because I hadn't read the novel Ellis was discussing so her reflections meant very little to me. But it wasn't just those chapters; I found myself growing bored. For some reason this book failed to hold my attention. It definitely has little to do with the quality of the book, because that is excellent - Ellis is a great writer. And while I could relate to some of Ellis' life decisions, I came to view it as monotonous and unrealistic that Ellis would be so enamored with fictional characters that they would guide her life so significantly.

For Ellis, it seems, books are her world, her passion, her life. Of course that's fine. I respect that. And I do relate to it - that's why I chose to read her book in the first place. But unfortunately, I didn't fall in love with How To Be A Heroine. I wish I could have, because the premise was so intriguing to me.


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