Monday, 15 June 2015

Review | How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

by Samantha Ellis

My Rating: 

While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.

With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favorite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.

I don't usually read nonfiction, and even when I do I usually lean towards books about history, but lately I've been on a real nonfiction kick ever since I read Jane Eyre's Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine's Story by Jody Gentian Bower. I'd had my copy of How To Be a Heroine for a while after being told about it by one of my friends, and as I was thirsting for more nonfiction I decided to pick it up. I devoured it.

This was my very first memoir, and if I'm being honest memoirs don't usually interest me, but I loved that Samantha Ellis created a timeline with the books she'd read and the heroines that had most shaped her, for better or for worse. This is both a memoir and literary criticism, and as someone who is eternally fascinated by heroines I was hooked. Ellis's style is so readable and conversational; so much so that while I was reading it I felt as though she was sitting opposite me and chatting to me over a cup of coffee. I closed this book feeling like I'd just caught up with an old friend, which was a lovely feeling.

While exploring these heroines, of all ages and nationalities, she made me want to reread some of my old favourites, too, to see if I thought differently about them now that I'm a little older. After all, our heroines never really stop teaching us new lessons, we just have to be open to learning them.

The only reason this book missed out on a full five stars was because I was a little disappointed that there was no mention of Anne Bronte in the Jane Eyre chapter, but I have learned that Ellis is currently writing a book about Anne Bronte that I definitely want to read!

Whether you feel comfortable with nonfiction or not, if you're a lover of literature, and a lover of heroines in particular, I highly, highly recommend checking this one out!

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