Review: Helena Andrews – Bitch is the New Black: a Memoir

Bitch Is the New Black: A MemoirBitch Is the New Black: A Memoir by Helena Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Had you suggested to me two weeks ago, civilised Englishman that I am, that I could possibly read a book littered with the word ‘awesome’ to describe anything less than a visitation from God and the entire heavenly host on a chariot of fire; or that I could read the word ‘dude’ without throwing the document containing it at the nearest cat, I would have taken you up to my balcony to admire the view of the hills of Guilin and then pushed you off, taking great delight in the Jackson Pollock effect you created on the pavement six storeys below.

Consequently, I curse Helena Andrews for putting me in the position of reviewing such a book and giving it four stars. (Yes, four. In the understated Englishman’s mind, four stars is the American equivalent of 23 awesomes and a yee-haw. Five stars is for Shakespeare.

(William Shakespeare?

(Wrote Hamlet?

(Okay, forget it).

This is such an American book I frequently wished it had come with subtitles. Cultural references abound – some bloke called Obama kept popping up, pop star I think – and so many TV shows that never made it across either the Atlantic or the Pacific that I found myself relieved we’d been spared the full horror of it all.

So, why the four stars?

For an American, Andrews seems incredibly human. Talking about the petty day-to-day of approaching decrepitude – 30 – without a man in steady tow; an eccentric mother; the death of a friend; and the private hell that is social media, this could so easily have been the misery-memoir of a self-obsessed pubescent, but then aren’t – or, in my case, weren’t – all our twenties just that in so many ways? A little more serious, and Andrews would have had me wanting to slap her face and telling her to snap out of it. A little more relaxed, and it would have been farce. Andrews, though, and it’s straight-down-the-middle without so much as a wobble. She may not understand the world, who does? But she knows herself lost in it far too well to take herself too seriously, and that’s a talent most people lack. Her casual observations bear reading and pondering upon. Thus, on men’s avatars in social media, On the guys’ side there were Douglas, Van, Raj, Chris, and Stu—all super cute in miniature, like doll-house furniture. Looking back, the black-and-white glamour shots should have tipped me off. Who takes a picture of just their eye? Well, quite.

Strangely, the less Andrews has to write about, the more she excels. She’s at her best with dull, tired themes, losing her edge a little when she has something solid to hang on to. This is a woman who turns trivia into an art form, showing us her life – thereby revealing our own lives – in a wryly affectionate light.

It’s a frightfully awesome book, me ol’ dude. Check it out.


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