Published by Penguin Random House
Everything I Know About Love is a memoir, first and foremost. The memoir of a 28 year old. If you think that 28 is far too young to have the wisdom and experience to validate a memoir you’d be quite right – but while this book is a memoir first and foremost it’s screamingly aware that it’s incomplete, that for Dolly Alderton her 29th year, the year the memoir ends, is the beginning of the rest of her life.
Because its central focus is love, Everything I Know… starts in the writer’s teenage years, where Alderton’s young, sure self proclaims that things she knows about, nay is positive about love, includes that “boys really like it when you say rude things to them and they find it babyish and uncool if you’re too nice” and “it’s a good idea to get married a bit later in life and after you’ve lived a bit. Say, twenty-seven”. While obviously these are included in the deranged but familiar thoughts of a teenager, the following chapters charter the formative school years with a 90s nostalgia that can only really appeal to someone under thirty.
Despite being only a few years older than that (Dolly is the same age as my little brother) I come from that group of millennials who are on the cusp between growing up with mobiles clasped to our heads and having a modern toddler’s disbelief when they can’t sideswipe a print magazine (for context, I was thirteen when I got my first mobile phone). My gang is the one being punished for being Celtic Tiger cubs, perched as we are on the periphery of technology; mourning Bebo, being there at the dawn of Facebook but for the most part being bewildered by Snapchat and befuddled by Twitter.
The divide between a 33 year old and a 29 year old can be surprisingly wide, in that regard, so it was with my lip curled in slightly removed distaste that I flicked through the opening chapters of self-centered teenagedom, rolling my eyes at the tales of MSN chat with virtual strangers. The feeling of reading an annoying, precocious little sister’s diary had me pausing for longer breaks than usual between putting down and picking up the book, despite the frequent moments of hilarity and the uniquely millennial (and relatable, uncomfortably relatable) anecdotes about her and her friend copying and pasting MSN messenger conversations into a Microsoft document for further review.
But then Dolly goes to college and subsequently moves with a few friends into a crappy apartment in Camden. She’s now 23 and the ‘fun’ begins. There’s sex, drugs, a great deal of drinking, which Dolly embraces with the brash confidence of a twenty-something who has migrated to the big city and claimed it as her own. She moves, she shakes, she bags a production job on scripted reality show Made in Chelsea and continues writing as a freelancer. She loses her best friend to a long term relationship while herself searching non-commitedly for a decent boy of her own. She surrounds herself with friends and parties and makes sure she’s always the last one standing at the end of the night and the first one rearing to continue the party the next day. She’s never been happier, or more free.
Except she isn’t, really. Interspersed with a fairly linear narrative are occasional mini-chapters that tie in Alderton’s loves, passions and insecurities. She adores cooking, and hosts weekly dinner parties for a variety of acquaintances, so provides recipes throughout as punctuation to the main subject of the chapters, like “Hangover Mac and Cheese” and “Got Kicked Out of the Club Sandwich”. At each dawn of a pertinent personal era she will list everything she knows about love at a certain age; most of it will have come from experience the rest will come from youthful hope and anticipation. She also includes chapters entitled with the pre-fix “The Bad Date Diaries”, all of which would indicate that the ‘love’ in the title of the book is romantic love, and it is to a certain extent, but there’s much more to it than that.
Without giving too much away, by the end of the book Dolly has gone from brash and sure of her self to vulnerable and rather broken. But the good thing about being broken is that you can be fixed, if you want to, and like kintsugi – the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer dusted with gold – the newly reconstructed piece can be even more beautiful and interesting than before. It’s a really well executed book, knowing and funny and insightful. My initial eye-rolls were unjustified; what is a teenager if not the most irritating part of your persona, thankfully shed like a snakeskin once adolescence has left the building. Alderton’s voice matures along with her character, and this series of essays will resonate with many – millennial or not.
- First published in The Tuam Herald on 07 03 18