Dolly Made Us Write It: A Review in Retrospective

I started writing my review halfway through Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. It was partly because I didn’t want my thoughts to escape me and partly because I had enjoyed the book so far; so much so that I attempted to recommend a title most would never find half as interesting as I did. It also seconds the fact that I’m impatient but mostly hedonistic about sharing interesting details of my otherwise dull life online.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of Dolly before the week before this (Although I would go on to lie to the cashier at the bookstore that I was a “huge Dolly fan” when I ended up purchasing three of her books). 

My friends Alice and Mina just about screamed when I told them I started reading Everything I Know About Love. They told me the book changed their lives and were excited for it to change mine, how it was a cornerstone moment in their early twenties… or something along those lines.  

At uni, Soumil grabbed me and insisted I read it. At this rate, I was berated by recommendations and stubborn old me was worn thin. So I picked up the book, and got a Goodreads account, made my friends follow it, and got stuck in. 

After challenging myself to read ten books this year, ten more than the ten years previous, it was my first venture into trying to like books as an adult!  

I saw Dolly’s name on a blog when I was searching for a present to buy for a friend who had invited me over for lunch on her birthday. My search on Google read, “Books to give to Taylor Swift fans”. I was out of options. I hope you forgive me, Devni. 
This chance encounter didn’t necessarily ingrain her name in my mind but it managed to take a backseat of my consciousness that I’ll be later reminded of when I see her latest release sitting on the shelves of that bookshop. I would end up gifting Good Material to Devni. 
I was drawn to her style of writing. She seemed straightforward, easy to comprehend, and relatable as I read through the pages of her books. The primary reason I picked up her other two books was because the back of her book, Dear Dolly posed the question, “Why do I fall in love with every man I meet?” while the cover had proclaimed her previous book, Everything I Know About Love as a bestseller. 
All this happened at The Bookshop in the small coastal town of Queenscliff. What I had hoped to be a getaway from someone I was falling for, concluded with me overspending on purchases that came across as self-help books for hopeless romantics. 

It was worth it. 


However, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Why was a thirty-year-old writing a memoir? Has anyone lived enough by then to write a memoir?’. I thought her writing was cool, or whatever, but still, I found myself reading the book with negativity. 

I fell in love in my early twenties, I went to therapy and fixed my mental health, and I figured out who I am. Her witty ‘I’m not like other girls’ was insufferable, her quips lame and her relationship with Farly, her best friend sour and challenging to read without cringing. I felt superior to what she was writing. 

In the margins of my hard copy, I scribbled… ‘I hate everything about this’, ’I can’t imagine thinking this thought at 21’, ‘I really understand my mum says I am mature in that and I have an “adult relationship” with my partner without because so much of this is fucked’, ‘God I hate these people so much.’ (these are all direct quotes). And then on one unassuming page in the chapter ‘Being Björn Again’ I wrote; 

I hate everything about Dolly because she's everything that I hate about myself.

And that’s where my feelings about the book changed. 


And so I resume writing my review on a Thursday evening. I finished reading it surprisingly. Why does that come as a surprise, Soumil? Because this is the only paperback I had completed reading last year… in December… the month when we get set to bid goodbye to the year. I can almost feel the look of judgment that you as my readers are observing and let me tell you, my Goodreads-loving soul stands by your side. 
But I shall borrow my year spent procrastinating to be a testament to the fact that this memoir captivated the bookworm in me that had morphed into a stranger I barely recognized. At some point, midway through the book, I realised that the book wasn’t about what I thought I needed to hear (i.e. a thirty-something’s words of wisdom that’ll help me secure a partner) but something I should listen to early on. 

She shares with us unbridled jealousy and hatred, dissatisfaction and frustrating self sabotage, bad habits with alcohol and drugs and all in all, meanness… and tells us it is ok. She shows us the ugly and envious side of your early twenties, something that I was deeply struggling with. 

Was I in the right relationship? Should I have had a hoe era? What if I stay with this man for the rest of my life? What if I only have sex with one person forever? What if I never find friends? Do I have a drinking problem? Why did they say that thing about me behind my back? Fuck I shouldn’t have said that behind their back, whoops. 

She was honest about what a shithole and misguided your early twenties can be. After years of bullying myself for not having the ‘best time of my life’, Dolly Alderton was less like a guiding light at the end of the tunnel, but a comforting voice in my ear saying ‘ yeah… this is shit isn’t it’ laughing as we walk, ‘come on, here’s a torch, let’s make it through’. 

To tell you the truth, as my eyes peered through Alderton’s anecdotes, my mind drowned in guilt. Reading her bits of advice, guileless and unsparing emails, appetizing recipes and revelations was an act that I as an eighteen-year-old adolescent could label as interdict.

Her recollection of memories had become my fast-paced pursuit towards adulthood in a city that I inhabited away from my family but closer to my friends. All of it was written for me, about the present and future me but also people have grown close to. 

One of the chapters, in particular, that struck a chord with me was ‘The Uncool Girls of Uncool Camden’. The gaps between the words and spaces between the lines of the chapter described people I knew who fancied more than a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, who had wild adventures that they couldn’t recall the next day, who as I had once told a friend ‘were much fun drunk’.

It reminded me of a remark a colleague had passed last week when I told them that my sobriety is a choice, “Oh, I thought it was because of your faith.” Dolly shared her journey with alcoholism with such sincerity and sensitivity that it helped me for once and for all make peace with my decision to not consume alcohol. 

Yes, in my early twenties, I fell in love. Yes, I felt warm and heard and held in my relationship, I went to parties, I studied what I loved and developed my passions and hobbies. But it was friends that I infinitely struggled with.

I waded through the first year of uni meeting people that I didn’t click with, friendships that didn’t flow easily and men who thought they could be my friend, and then get a sneaky date later on. I thought the ‘lifelong friendships’ that you’re ‘destined for’ in your twenties were a lie and I thought I was broken. 

Oh, how I was so very wrong. And it was Alderton who picked up younger me and gave her a hug.  

By chance, I did find friends, and some really good ones at that. They fill my heart with joy and truly teach me what unconditional love is. I thought I knew everything about love, and then I found them (sorry to my partner Al who is also wonderful lol). Alderton’s book wasn’t so much about the glory and gleam of romantic love, but rather the reality of love that many people find in their friendships.

How the world can spin endlessly around you, and your friends are the ones to stay. Alderton taught me that the friends that accept your ugliness, your good and your bad are the ones who truly teach you about love. 

In the end, my paperback copy was scuffed, bent and highlighted by the passages that remind me of my dear friends. It had been with me to uni, to bars and cafes and snuggled next to me in bed. I had photographed pages to send to my friends with the caption ‘omg look it’s us!’ and got lost in the pages that mirrored how I had felt for the first few years of my twenties. 

For readers who can make it to the last paragraph of the auto-biographical memoir, the ending sums up the essence of the book while for the rest of my keen, interested audience the cover juggling between the right word with the jagged line omitting every wrong choice best encapsulates the book. 

The book is about love. Not necessarily romantic. Not always romantic. If you’re on the path to discovering what love is all about, I hope this is where you find your love. 

Oh, and if your twenties don’t look like the twenties of the people around you, you’re most certainly not doing it wrong, and I hope that’s how you feel by the end of this book. 

By Soumil Sawmill and Olivia Hough

Header via Pixabay, stocksnap

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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