Review: Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

“Me finding a new love interest had always been like a greedy child opening a toy on Christmas Day. I ripped the packaging open, got frustrated trying to make it work, played with it obsessively until it broke, then chucked the broken pieces of plastic in the back of a cupboard on Boxing Day.”

This obsessive, witty, and astute voice carries Everything I Know About Love, the U.K. bestselling memoir from Sunday Times columnist Dolly Alderton, which recently made its stateside debut. In the book, Alderton explores her coming-of-age in suburban London (“a place that feels like an all-beige waiting room”) as she “restlessly wishes” her childhood away before crashing into her twenties. The next decade of Alderton’s life—depicted through a combination of focused vignettes, recipes, lists, and satirical emails—finds her navigating the confusing worlds of love, loss, and appreciating the people who were there to help her pick up the pieces.

Alderton’s candidness quickly charms the reader as she shares all her most embarrassing anecdotes, from copying and pasting MSN conversations with boys into a Word document on her computer to the number of times she stumbled drunkenly into a cab at 4 AM to visit an ex-boyfriend halfway across the country. To see a young Alderton embrace the reckless glory of it all is like doing it yourself from afar. “It would be inappropriate…but whoever fell in love with appropriate?” she asks. She continues, “That’s why it’s called falling — no one meanders-with-a-compass-and-Ordnance-Survey-map into love.” From the delights of online dating (“The men won’t commit, all the sex is pornographic and my phone never has any storage because of all the photos of fully shaven penises I’m sent on WhatsApp.”) to the dissatisfaction of hooking up (“It was the physical equivalent of a rushed sandwich in a motorway service station — something you thought you were looking forward to then the minute you get to it you wonder why.”), no stone is left unturned.

The jokes and shenanigans do not exhaust the reader because Alderton often takes a step back to show, retrospectively, how she sees her twenty something self. “They were all good stories, and that’s what mattered,” she writes of her antics. She continues, “I thought that, to be a writer, I had to be a collector of experiences. And I thought every experience worth having, every person worth meeting, only existed after dark.” She also does not shy away from the darker moments. “I carried on because I just wanted to be happy and everyone knows when you’re thinner, you’re happier,” she writes of her eating disorder, desperately seeking a form of control in the abyss of youth. Similarly, on her binge drinking, she writes, “The girl who was sober was riddled with anxieties, convinced everyone she loved was going to die, fretting about what everyone thought of her. The girl who was drunk smoked a cigarette with her toes ‘for a laugh’ and cartwheeled on dance floors.” Alderton is unafraid to show us the complex dimensionality to her character, one who wants to remember the childhood joy she at one time so quickly shrugged off, but struggles to find it. “No one would know that anything is wrong with me from the outside. I just feel shit. All the time,” she writes.

The crown jewel of the book, however, is Alderton’s finesse in describing her struggle to accept her best friend Farly entering an “infuriatingly adult” relationship. “Scott now occupied the seat I had been in at the dining-room table for birthdays and Sunday roasts; he was the one who joined them on cool, cosy autumnal half-terms in Cornwall while I looked at the photos on Instagram,” she writes, perfectly depicting the isolation and sadness felt as a friend leaves you behind, even if they are doing so blindly. As friend after friend couples up whilst Dolly wades in her singleness, they all try to assure her everything will stay the same. “Everything will change,” she argues. “The love we have for each other stays the same, but the format, the tone, the regularity and the intimacy of our friendship will change forever.” In something so rarely addressed, Alderton is completely correct.

There is a certain warmth in seeing Alderton as she nears her thirtieth birthday and realizes, “I had accidentally grown out of one-night stands, like a little girl who realizes one day that she no longer wants to play with her Barbies.” Even as she questions what the new stage of life means (“Nothing is weird for us to be doing any more,” she worries to a friend. “Nothing feels like an extraordinary, premature achievement. It’s just what we’re meant to be doing.”), she also makes it palpable just how much she has grown. Having started the memoir with a vignette proclaiming romantic love is of the utmost importance, Alderton leaves the reader with a much more tender and complex understanding on the subject, one beyond simply romance: “Love is a quiet, reassuring, relaxing, pottering, pedantic, harmonious hum of a thing; something you can easily forget is there, even though its palms are outstretched beneath you in case you fall.”

Alderton combines the humour of Nora Ephron and the adventurous spirit of Carrie Bradshaw to write a moving ode to her friends, and in doing so, will surely strike a chord with American readers just as she has done with Brits.

About the author

Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Editor-in-Chief of Columbia Journal, Issue 58; and Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.

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