Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE IMPORTANCE OF MUSIC TO GIRLS by Lavinia Greenlaw Kirkus Star


by Lavinia Greenlaw

Pub Date: May 6th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-374-17454-5
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Coming of age through popular music.

British novelist and poet Greenlaw (An Irresponsible Age, 2007, etc.) didn’t perform daring feats, conquer cancer, start a business or save anyone; most of her adventures involved sitting in bedrooms listening to records. Nonetheless, her achingly sensitive memoir about trying to grow up through, around and within pop music does not fail to amaze. She presents herself as a young girl bewildered about her place in the world, first as a sensitive child in 1960s London, roiled by hippie and glam crosscurrents, and later as a teenager in a village outside Essex, where her slow ripening coincided with that of the punk movement. During a confusing adolescence, she attempted to fashion a cohesive self through the music she listened to, judiciously acquiring LPs and hungrily listening for furtive signals from the European continent on a little transistor radio. At 14, a pivotal age in her musical autobiography, she exulted in punk style, especially its collapsed gender distinctions. Fortunately, her tolerant, seemingly disinterested parents granted her the freedom (and presumably the funds) to pursue this temporary rebellion, with all its attendant dangers and delights. As the Chi-Lites gave way to the Sex Pistols, Devo and the Damned, she sought but could not regain the easy camaraderie of dancing at the disco with her girlfriends. Though decidedly personal, her story will resonate with those who, like the author, experienced firsthand the sea changes of popular music in the ’70s, as well was with those who discovered the era’s gems later. The taut, lyric thrum of Greenlaw’s prose reflects her poet’s skill. Introducing each chapter with epigraphs selected with care from great works of Western literature, she weaves her quietly intense tale into a much larger narrative.

Well-written, bewitching and subtly dazzling.