After not reading anything for five years straight, Maddy Morwood has joined a book club and has started unashamedly writing book reviews. Dolly Alderton’s ‘Everything I Know About Love’ is the best (and only) book she has read this year.
I’m feeling a little guilty that it took a worldwide pandemic lockdown for me to pick up British journalist Dolly Alderton’s 2018 memoir. (I am usually a massive campaigner for females, memoirs, and memoirs written by females). After much deliberation, I have decided to blame this one on a combination of book hype and personal laziness.
When Everything I Know About Love came out two years ago, every girl and her blog were talking about it. Alderton’s debut book came from nowhere but was suddenly dominating the best sellers lists and winning awards, picking up the 2018 National Book Awards prize for best autobiography and shortlisted for Waterstones book of the year. Nah, I thought, I think I’ll just re-read my Twitter timeline for a laugh instead. Regrettable, in hindsight.
It wasn’t until I received four near-identical recommendations to read the book and comparisons with Alderton within the space of a week that I cracked. You remind me so much of Dolly Alderton! And she is so chaotic haha kind of like you! And this girl has the most pathetic boy stories, she’s literally you. OKAY I GET IT. I want to meet my match.
It took all of the first page to have me hooked. Alderton details ‘everything she knows about love as a teenager’ and says that “the mark of true love is when two boys get in a physical fight over you.” God, so true. “The sweet spot is drawn blood but no one having to go to hospital.” Brilliant. “One day this will happen to me, if I’m lucky.” This woman is magical. I wanted more.
And more she gave. Alderton is nothing if not nostalgic. Her attention to detail to life’s different stages- from teenage rebellion, to her roaring (drunk) twenties, to the lead up of the ‘dreaded’ thirty – will have you reminiscing and groaning in shame. A moment that struck home the most was when she perfectly encompasses life as a teenage girl in the early rise of technology. Ask any girl born in the 90’s about MSN, and they too, will rave about its revolutionary impact on teenage dating. Like many others, for Alderton MSN was an escape from the dreadful bore of teenage life in the suburbs and a thrilling direct access to a multitude of teenage boys in the otherwise dry landscape of all-girls high school. Alderton tells it best when she says, “…we discovered that since the conception of Instant Messenger, we had both been copying and pasting conversations with boys onto a Microsoft Word document, printing them out and putting the pages in a ring-binder folder to read before bed like an erotic novel.” Her words unexpectedly (and shamefully) shot me back to grade eight, when the girls and I would sit in circles, binders clutched close to our chests until it was our turn for show-and-tell.
Throughout Everything I Know About Love, Alderton talks of modern courtship with humour and wit like no other – largely due to her bank of ridiculous tales with ridiculous boys. Her friends say things like “Oh my God, I bet he’s told you to fly to France, hasn’t he?” and “Why is it always so extreme with you and men?” And they aren’t wrong – it is rare for Alderton to relive an experience with a man with anything less than dramatics. Whether it’s a marriage proposal from Adam after six days of meeting in New York, a three-week turbulent online relationship with ‘people-pleasing guru’ father-of-four David, or even a 30-page MSN conversation with fourteen-year-old Betzalel from Jewish holiday camp, Alderton is never short of stories to tell. I’m a firm believer in doing anything for the sake of a good story, and Alderton seems to be as well (much to my delight). “The anecdotal mileage in this will be inexhaustible,” she says as she finds herself paying 300 pounds for an Uber from London to Leamington Spa for a tall Canadian boy with blue eyes. Everyone has at least one friend who would do the same. And if you don’t, then you’re that friend.
But when it comes down to it, Alderton isn’t talking about boys – not really. Sure, boys may be the distraction, the headliners. But the foundation, the real deal, are the friendships she shares with her closest girlfriends. Because, at its core, Everything I Know About Love is an ode to female friendships. And it is her best friend Farly in particular, who remains the real love affair of Alderton’s story.
“You can do long-term love. You’ve done it better than anyone I know,” says Farly. “How? My longest relationship was two years and that was over when I was twenty-four.”
“I’m talking about you and me.”
So yes, Dolly Alderton knows a lot about love. In fact, I would go as far as to say she knows quite a bit about love: how to love her friends. How to love them as boys come and go, how to love them in their dodgy Camden house, how to love them when they’re about to marry the wrong man, how to love them in their darkest hours, and how to accept love from them in her darkest.
Alderton is refreshingly honest, chaotic at the best of times, and starts every messy night with warm Prosecco (who doesn’t?) So, please – treat Everything I Know About Love the same way you would treat your 2008 binder full of sacred Microsoft Word documents with Dylan from MSN. Never let go. And share it with the girls.