Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I have a confession to make. Perhaps not a surprising one considering I confessed to being a big geek when I read Geek Girl, but a confession nonetheless. Here goes…
I read fanfiction.
There! I said it! I like fanfiction! I obviously know nothing about writing, reading, and generally anything to do with the written word as I. Like. Fanfiction!
Ok, maybe I’m being just a tad overly dramatic. However, you can see perhaps why this particular book piqued my interest…..
Cath and Wren are identical twins physically but once they go off to college their differences seem to eclipse their similarities. They’d always been close but now they seem to be drifting apart – Wren, ever the more outgoing twin, is off out clubbing and drinking and generally being a student, whilst quieter more introverted Cath is intent on pursuing her writing, namely her ongoing and incredibly popular fanfiction based on the Simon Snow books. With new family crises rearing their heads and new feelings complicating Cath’s life even more, it becomes all too easy to retreat back to her beloved world of Baz and Simon where she holds all the strings and everything makes such perfect sense. Now if only the rest of life didn’t rely quite so totally on Cath not misinterpreting it…This is definately not the sort of thing I would normally read. I don’t do romance (unless it’s followed by some sort of chase or an explosion). I don’t do love triangles. I don’t do girl talk really at all. To me, anything that does that sort of thing is positively a No Go Area
However, I have a friend who absolutely LOVES these sorts of books and she’d previously chattered to me about Rainbow Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park. She sounded so impressed by it that it stuck in my head and when I saw Fangirl, which combined not just this same author but also fanfiction….well, it was worth investigating.
I can honestly say I’m quite glad my friend chattered to me. Although this isn’t going to be one of my all-time favourite books, it was a quick, easy and pretty enjoyable read and Cath was a surprsingly interesting character for me. I ended up being drawn into her dilemmas without becoming irritated, either with her or the plot. This takes some serious writing chops, to make an introverted, obsessive, deeply-focused and insecure person not annoying. Don’t believe me? Look at some of your favourite characters from tv and then look at some of their defining characteristics. There are plenty of characters who without some clever interpretation from writers/actors would be annoying pains in the backside. Certainly I can think of at least 3 characters I love who could have turned into real Marmite characters without a deft hand behind their writing. Rowell is one such writer and Cath as a result is a highly enjoyable character and one you can easily empathise with.
I think another part of Cath’s appeal is that ultimately the dilemmas she faces when she leavs home for the first time are the same (or at least very similar) to problems the reader will have experienced themsleves. Everyone’s wondered at some point whether that guy/girl really likes them or not, or thought odd thoughts about how attractive a person’s neck or eyebrows can be (and if you haven’t I don’t believe you). Despite Cath’s geekiness and potentially audience-alienating obsession with Simon Snow, everyone can relate to being out of your depth or treading water once in a while.
I loved the nice little touches on the fanfiction side of things. I did worry a little bit whether they’d just be token references but I needn’t have worried. These aren’t gratuitous, these feel like someone’s sat and been in a fandom for a while. Simon Snow’s fandom bears more than a hint of a resemblance to the Harry Potter fandom (which quite frankly scares the heebie jeebies out of me sometimes) and the little quarrels and pursuits and friendships that quirk up in Cath’s fanfiction life are absolutely bang on with some of the events I’ve observed in other fandoms. If you’re not a fanfiction reader yourself it doesn’t matter – all it does is give you a richer insight into Cath’s character and the world she inhabits. The references to Simon Snow or the various aspects of fandom never take away from the main story, so no worries if you’ve no clue what ‘slash’ means or anything!
Also on fanfiction, one thing that especially appealed was her talk with Professor Piper about her fandom essay. It’s the evergoing argument about fanfiction and it’s not one I feel I can (or should) try to resolve here – the argument of whether it’s real writing or just someone playing with someone’s else’s creation and claiming it as their own work ie. plagiarism. Professor Piper’s reasoning is perfectly sound but I loved how empassioned Cath became in her defence of it – it’s easy to love Cath when she really gets into her writing, whether it’s about a fictitious fandom or not.
This is a love story though and unlike the few romances I’ve tried before and put aside, Rowell writes very profound love scenes, often unlike any I’d read before. The little gestures people who like each other make towards each other, the closeness of them; they speak of love purely than any fanfiction I’ve read (and quite a bit of fiction too). They’re the sort of scenes first time lovers aspire to and older lovers reminice on.
Overall I’m glad I listened to my friend. Fangirl is funny, it’s emotionally deft, it’s very well thought-out and, I feel, an extremely enjoyable read. I think I may just turn out to be the odd romance reader after all.
Thank you to Macmillan for providing me with a copy and thank you to Rainbow Rowell for giving me a new genre to peek into!
Find Fangirl here