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Everything I Know About Love is a shockingly intimate memoir from former sex columnist Dolly Alderton

This is not the story of a “bored and sad and lonely” girl, but something much better – a wonderful writer.

Until recently, I would have placed dating columnists somewhere between car-testers and topiary-correspondents in the hack hierarchy – and past the age of 25, surely it’s a sign that you’ve been sexually rejected by a generation? There’s an exception to this rule, though; if the go-getter is a) gorgeous and b) a good writer, with one bound book they are free.

You wait for ages, then two come along at once: immediately before this, I read Emily Hill’s debut short story collection Bad Romance, in which she effortlessly graduated from being a Sunday Times dating columnist to the Saki of sex. And here is a book from her predecessor, Dolly Alderton, which is nothing short (rather like the 6ft-tall Dolly) of breathtakingly beautiful (ditto).

Virtue-signalling is one of the most irritating cultural tics of our time, and an exceptionally high proportion of young female writers go in for it. Which is a shame and also retrogressive, as it’s just another way of being a good ickle girl trying to get a different kind of male approval at a stage of your life when you should be throwing caution to the wind and being a total self-serving bitch. Such suck-ups also tend to be mimsies who bore on about “self-care” (which is merely self-pity with added vibrators), whereas Alderton’s idea of self-care is a threesome with Ben and Jerry.

Though she’s a middle-class miss from the north London suburbs, there’s something pleasingly Everygirl about her, which the likes of Lena Dunham and Laurie Penny so woefully lack. She’s the opposite of a snowflake – she’s a big, glinting snowball with a razor blade inside.

This book is almost shockingly intimate; the autobiographical writing is so rich, so affecting that without a little leavening it might be necessary to lay it aside every ten minutes in order to maintain some kind of equanimity. But luckily it’s pleasingly interspersed with flashbacks to what Alderton knew about love as a teenager (“Romantic love is the most important and exciting thing in the entire world”), at 21 (“When you are thin enough, you’ll be happy with who you are and then you’ll be worthy of love”), at 25 (“If a man loves you because you are thin, he’s no man at all”) and up to date at 28 (“It is no person’s job to be the sole provider of your happiness. Sorry.”) Also vegetarian hangover recipes (“Got Kicked Out of The Club Sandwich”) and snarky fake group email messages from the sort of self-caring snowflakes whose sororities it would be worth having a sex-change in order to avoid: “There will be craft beer. The Death Of Hackney tastes like fizzy Marmite and smells like a urinary tract infection and is yours for £13  a bottle. Enjoy!”

In these mis-mem dog-days, it’s refreshing to read a young woman who feels no need to pathologise pleasure in order to turn a crisis into a drama. Alderton likes a drink (“Pouring alcohol into my brain was like pouring water into squash – everything diluted and mellowed”) and becomes so drunk that at one point she believes that she is in Oxford city centre when she is actually outside Oxford Circus Topshop. On the heartbreak diet, she feels “like a high-speed train that was magically running on empty”. Her account of her coke-sniffing days is so on the nose it made me wince in recognition.

But looking back at her lost years, Alderton sees the empty glasses as being metaphorically half-full and concludes that “a lot of it was magnificent, carefree fun”. Writing about friendship, she shines most of all:

In over fifteen years, I have never gone more than a few hours without thinking about her… Without the love of Farly, I am just a heap of frayed and half-finished thought; of blood and muscle and skin and bone and unachievable dreams… my mess only takes on a proper shape with that familiar and favourite piece of my life standing next to me.

Alderton is an old soul – not just because of her appreciation for Gene Kelly and Paul Simon but because she has learned life lessons while not yet out of her twenties that many of us post-menopausal matrons are still struggling with. This is the story of a “bored and sad and lonely” girl stranded in suburbia who became not the woman she dreamed of being – “elegant and slim and wearing black dresses and drinking Martinis” – but something much better; a wonderful writer, who will surely inspire a generation the way that Caitlin Moran and my sensational self did before her. 

Everything I Know About Love
Dolly Alderton
Fig Tree, 336pp, £12.99

This article first appeared in the 08 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new age of rivalry

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Commons confidential: Momentum’s Christine Shawcroft loses comrades with furious Whatsapp messages

Your weekly dose of gossip from Westminster.

The kamikaze style of Momentum narcissist Christine Shawcroft certainly isn’t found in the ABC of Chairmanship, Walter Citrine’s definitive guide to conducting labour movement meetings. Comrades fear the strain of chairing the party’s disputes panel is unsettling the veteran activist. Frustrated by her inability to persuade Labour’s National Executive Committee members to drop disciplinary charges in two constituency cases, three horrified sources recounted how, while still chairing the hearing, a seething Shawcroft pinged a couple of splenetic WhatsApp messages to a 25-strong left group. The first unwise denunciation – “you bunch of fucking wankers” – was followed swiftly by the perhaps unwiser “I want to kill you all”. Yelled in the room, the insult might have proved sufficient grounds to summon Shawcroft on an abuse charge before the very panel she convenes. How to lose friends and alienate comrades.

My radar-lugged snouts report Harriet Harman is quietly soliciting support for a potential tilt at the Speakership should John Bercow be forced to vacate the chair. The Westminster grande dame was overheard discussing the bullying row threatening Big John, a taxi driver’s son, in the members’ cloakroom with tall Tory Daniel Kawczynski. The Conservative MP loftily informed Harman, “We need a Speaker with a little dignity and class.” Who oozes more class than an earl’s niece or greater dignity than the woman who retained
her poise when Gordon Brown’s deputy?

The ears of little Ben Gummer will be burning. A band of Tories have warned Theresa May of their unhappiness should a peerage be awarded to the former cabinet office minister who lost his Ipswich seat in last year’s general election. “Gummer assured us the manifesto would create waves,” growled an angry rebel, “and the patronising squirt wasn’t bloody wrong.”

Nerdy Culture Secretary Matt Hancock’s nerdier special adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin stunned boozers by producing a roll-up chess board from his pocket to play a game sitting on the floor of a crowded bar
after midnight. Memo to self: check how that Tory campaign to fit in is going.

Labour’s punchy Louise Haigh has taken up boxing to keep fit. When Tory vice chair Chris Skidmore backed off in a lift, Left Hook Lou had to assure the wimp that she’s not hit an opponent. Yet.

“Are you Tom Watson?” inquired the stranger on a street, “You look a lot slimmer than on TV.” Not just the gogglebox. Shedding 5.5 stone creates a new political category: lightweight heavyweight. 

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Easter special