Wednesday 1 February 2017

Book Review: How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell.

Product details:  
Publisher: Ebury.
Hardcover, 374 pages.
Release date: February 2nd 2017.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 At the age of 15, Cat Marnell unknowingly set out to murder her life. After a privileged yet emotionally-starved childhood in Washington, she became hooked on ADHD medication provided by her psychiatrist father. This led to a dependence on Xanax and other prescription drugs at boarding school, and she experimented with cocaine, ecstasy… whatever came her way. By 26 she was a talented ‘doctor shopper’ who manipulated Upper East Side psychiatrists into giving her never-ending prescriptions; her life had become a twisted merry-go-round of parties and pills at night, and trying to hold down a high profile job at Condé Naste during the day.

With a complete lack of self-pity and an honesty that is almost painful, Cat describes the crazed euphoria, terrifying comedowns and the horrendous guilt she feels lying to those who try to help her. Writing in a voice that is utterly magnetic – prompting comparisons to Brett Easton Ellis and Charles Bukowski – she captures something essential both about her generation and our times. Profoundly divisive and controversial, How to Murder Your Life is a unforgettable, charged account of a young female addict, so close to throwing her entire life away.

On finishing Cat Marnell’s ‘How to Murder Your Life,’ another book I read way back, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘More, Now, Again’ sprang to mind. I mean, it’s maybe a little obvious to compare the two, but I thought I might: both are memoirs of addiction written by uber-dramatic, self-involved blondes who live ultra-privileged New York lives, after all. Thing is, save for the fact that I read More, Now, Again all in one go on a rainy Saturday afternoon, after which I attended an Evan Dando gig, followed by party where I hung out with a Swedish chef named Bjorn, I don’t really remember anything about that book. I mean, I read More, Now, Again much more than a decade ago.   I recall that Lizzie was addicted to Ritalin at that time, and I also seem to remember that her apartment had been invaded by cockroaches –or maybe she just hallucinated that – details are hazy.  As for Cat Marnell, mice are her problem, and her drug of choice is, well, it’s every drug you’ve ever heard of – along with a few you hoped were just urban myths.  I would wager a bet that there isn’t a drug out there that Marnell hasn’t tried. I mean, doing drugs by the crate-load is, if not Marnell’s claim to fame, then at least her favourite party piece.

So, this book is, as its title suggests, a lesson in how not to life a life. Or, if you are an actual addict, it might just be a great lesson in how to keep on living when all the odds are stacked against you* (Tip: having wealthy parents who can pay your $28,000 rehab bills helps a whole lot).  This is car crash literature; the kind of book that keeps you reading late into the night as you wonder just how low Marnell can go.  I say that not as a criticism, you know, even though I know that a lot of people will read this book and stand in judgement at how Cat Marnell has screwed herself over time and again (even with all that privilege, and all that money and all those second, third and fourth chances…YAWN).  Hey, listen, we all screw up. Some of us just happen to screw up a whole lot more than others.  If you’re not familiar with Marnell’s work, (Lucky, xojane, Vice) - then what are you doing here?  Just kidding! - then you may not know that Marnell is an honest-to-god wild child and the one-time enfant terrible of the US fashion-zine scene. Marnell has an insatiable appetite for self-destruction - and boy does she love to binge. If you read this book, you’ll discover details of Marnell’s prescription pill addiction, which was cultivated in boarding school, aged fifteen; fun and not so fun times spent partying with cokehead Calvin Klein models in New York; an enviable job at Lucky magazine under the tutelage of Jean Godfrey-June, whom Cat adores.   This book also details abortions (more than one) and an overdose. There is also sexual abuse, insomnia, a whole lot of bulimia, doctor shopping on the UES, multiple rehabs and many hallucinations along the way.  Oh, and mice. Lots of mice.  Nev Shulman, in his boxer shorts, makes a cameo appearance at one point as Cat’s unfortunate roommate.  If you think you have the roommate from hell, then you haven’t met Cat Marnell.

I haven’t read a whole heap of addiction memoirs or anything, so I’m not an expert, but it’s safe to say that by their very nature these books can be dark, squirm-in-your-seat, uncomfortable reads. Not this one, though. This book didn’t unsettle me. It didn’t make me feel queasy either, which, with this kind of thing, is practically mandatory. And I never really felt sorry for Marnell.  Maybe that’s because Marnell doesn’t really see her addiction as something to get down about, or maybe it’s because, in this book, she merely scratches the surface of who she is.  Marnell will name-drop all day long, she’ll let you borrow vintage dresses from her wardrobe, she’ll let you raid her medicine cabinet and hang out with Courtney Love for an afternoon too, but as for letting you eavesdrop on her innermost thoughts and feelings –forget about it.  Unlike Lizzie Wurtzel before her, that is simply not what Cat is about.   Marnell lives in a shallow world, and in this book, she presents herself as a shallow kinda girl.  As a result, this book might lack a little heart and –ahem- substance at times, but boy, is it one wild and gritty ride.

In short:  ‘More, Now, Again’ meets ‘Disco Bloodbath’ – with a killer wardrobe.

* It’s really not.

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