Words by Megan Whitehead, Staff Writer
If I was ever forced onto a desert island and only had one item to bring with me, I would pick Dolly Alderton’s ‘Everything I Know About Love’, in a heartbeat. Alderton’s debut novel is an autobiography packed with endearing anecdotes that make you feel like she’s a random girl in a club toilet, who is quickly becoming your new best friend in telling you her life story. From tales about getting a taxi from Exeter to Durham for an after-party, random hangover recipes, and emails full of the things you wish you could say but can’t, this book has it all.
Alderton is an award-winning journalist recognised for her work in The Telegraph, GQ, Marie Claire, and she is also well known for hosting a podcast series called ‘The High Low’. This is her first novel, and she has since published a fiction piece called ‘Ghosts’ about the reality of modern dating, which I also highly encourage you to read.
Few books have been able to make me feel the way this book does, and Alderton’s honest, funny, and heartfelt memoir really was the friend I needed at the time. It’s a coming-of-age essay-based memoir that captures the journey of what it means to be a girl growing into a woman. The book covers her life from her early teens right up until her early thirties, and much to the reader’s delight, she doesn’t hold back on any detail. Messy relationships, nights out, dating encounters, awkward interactions, the inner monologue of a twenty-something-year-old girl: this is the book every woman should read in her early twenties.
In the book, Alderton explores her coming-of-age in suburban London and spends her teenage years wishing she was older. Much of the book is centred around her relationship with her life-long best friend Farley. Alderton explores their time at university, where Farley was the one keeping Alderton’s shenanigans in check and spans to navigating their friendship in later years and assessing the difficulty of how to act when your best friend has a significant other. She regularly steps back in the book to reflect on the way she sees her twenty-something-year-old self, writing that “they were all good stories, and that’s what matters”.
“Nearly everything I know about love, I’ve learnt from my long-term friendships with women.”
Alderton has a huge amount of love for the women in her life and the friendships she has, and it is really fascinating to think about the ways that these relationships change over the different stages of life and growing up. “The love we have for each other stays the same, but the format, the tone, the regularity and the intimacy of our friendship will change forever.” It’s not something I’ve seen many other writers address, but it is true. The stories she tells make you want to reach out to your friends and tell them how much you love them. The story is only partly about self-love and being alone, but more about loving all the good people in your life unconditionally, because the main love in your life isn’t always romantic. It romanticises all the little moments that don’t seem big at the time, but it makes you realise those are the moments that shape you and that you’ll think about forever
“When you’re looking for love and it seems like you might not ever find it, remember you probably have access to an abundance of it already, just not the romantic kind. This kind of love might not kiss you in the rain or propose marriage. But it will listen to you, inspire, and restore you. It will hold you when you cry, celebrate when you’re happy, and sing All Saints with you when you’re drunk. You have so much to gain and learn from this kind of love. You can carry it with you forever. Keep it as close to you as you can.”
Alderton leaves no stone unturned in this book, she discusses all the highs and balances it out with all the lows. She shares her experience of an eating disorder and the thoughts she had at the time, writing that “I carried on because I just wanted to be happy and everyone knows when you’re thinner, you’re happier”. I think this part of the book is really important for any young woman to read because it makes you realise, you’re not actually crazy. There is a special comfort to be found in realising that many things really are a universal experience.
I first read this book at a low point in my life. I was sitting in my bed in Park Village (again, it was low), setting up an appointment to finalise my dropping out of university and picked this book up in an attempt to distract myself from how messy my life seemed. As soon as I read the first chapter which reminisced over nostalgic MSN conversations, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep until I finished it.
I read it from cover to cover, and I only wish I could read it for the first time again. It made me both cackle and cry my eyes out in the space of a chapter, whilst all the same making me feel like I wasn’t so alone. It made me less scared for whatever direction my life was headed in, reminding me that a change of plan didn’t have to mean everything was going wrong, it was just another story to tell. All the things that felt so big and embarrassing were made smaller because of this book. Every time one of my friends is feeling a little down or heartbroken, I thrust this book into their arms and without fail, I get a text message two days later telling me how much they love it.
If you’re feeling lonely, overwhelmed, or just lost in the puzzle that is growing up and navigating your way through this turbulent age, then I urge you to read ‘Everything I Know About Love’. It is such a beautifully written and reassuring novel that I will hold close to my heart forever.