I was hesitant to read Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love (Penguin Books, 2018)…
as I am with every book that becomes the cultural craze of the moment. My friends couldn’t believe it when it came up – what do you MEAN you haven’t read it?! – as I continued to dismiss it from my reading list. As usual, however, after inevitably surrendering to the hype, I fell in love with this coming of age story. I can conclude that this is essential reading for every 20-something who has ever struggled with identity, relationships and finding their way after education.
I was not well acquainted with Alderton for long before reading Everything I Know About Love. In fact, I first stumbled across her Instagram page, and after a few minutes I was fascinated by her and her career. As the co-host of a hugely successful podcast (The High Low), a lucrative career in journalism and a debut novel published last year, I felt compelled to read her first work in the hopes that I might learn more about her journey and, hopefully, hear the secret of her success.
What I was not expecting, however, was to relate so viscerally with her life and experiences, most of all with the unhealthy relationships in her life. Food, body image, men, self-doubt, jealousy, resentment, alcohol, party culture… all things that young people, young women especially, struggle with as they navigate the frustrating, exciting, fish-out-of-water moment that is your twenties.
Dubbed as a “Bridget Jones for millennials”, Alderton’s first book is a coming of age memoir, offering shrewd insights into the ever-changing realities of friendships, dating, working and self-discovery as a young adult.
On surface reading, it seemed to be a book about the successes and failures of Alderton’s various romantic conquests, but it is truly a book about the women in her life; it is about the love shared between friends and of how the love of a best friend can be more enduring and dependable than its romantic equivalent. I was struck by her description of the feeling of impending doom about your 20s ending, the “best years of your life” passing you by. I think this is particularly relevant now, with the coronavirus pandemic interrupting our lives for the best part of a year. The desire to achieve and to succeed when you are still young and vibrant and beautiful is both insidious and misplaced, as Alderton reveals. She takes us through those feelings of hopelessness, aimlessness and inadequacy and reveals them to be natural, but also crucially formative.
As a 23 year old white woman with an English degree and an interest in writing, with many on-paper shared experiences and many of the same behavioural traits as the author, it is probable that I related so strongly to this book because it felt so relevant to me and what I am currently experiencing.
Despite this, I think every young woman will recognise a bit of themselves in Dolly’s story. It is a reassuring and validating read that takes you through every emotion with the narrator and leaves you feeling both understood and hopeful. The most important relationship of all, Dolly concludes, is the one we develop with ourselves. It takes time – far more time than one would expect – but every moment invested into self-knowledge and self-love will pay for itself a dozen times over.
For another insight into a highly regarded writer see ‘In your search for acceptance, you may find a greater truth – Carson McCullers’ The Members of the wedding.