Khoollect read: How To Be A Heroine

If you are on the hunt for a potential first read for your book club, then you can’t go far wrong with How to be A Heroine (Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much) by Samantha Ellis.

Written by the playwright and journalist Samantha Ellis, this enjoyable read is part memoir, part warmly written jaunt through the literary heroines that have helped to shape her.   

The impetus for the book came about after an impassioned debate Ellis had with her best friend on whether they fell into the camp of Cathy Earnshaw (impulsive, passionate), or the camp of Jane Eyre (sensible, stoic).  ‘Camp Cathy!’ cried Ellis, but then uncertainty set in and she decided to revisit all her literary heroines to see if they still held true.

Is it worth the read?

This could have been a self-indulgent book; a personal response to literary heroines who helped shape the life of a single individual in very particular circumstances. But this is a most generous and vivid account of finding your place in life and the role and impact of literature as part of this process.  

Ellis’ writing style is infectious and accessible; she is fearlessly honest and writes with real pace. She has a gift for storytelling, which isn’t surprising given her craft, and her text is layered with detail and witty asides.  

This is not a ‘how to’ of appreciating literary heroines, nor is it literary criticism in the traditional sense.  Ellis embraces the simple realisation that what we take from books and how we interpret them is provisional and subject to change.

My only real gripe is that once the key realisation is made, the impact of the book lessens somewhat and no further discoveries are really to be had but, anyone who read as a child and young adult will come across familiar faces in the wide selection of literary examples making this book resonate.

[How To Be A Heroine (Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much) – Samantha Ellis, Vintage Books , ISBN 978-0-099-57556-6]

What literary heroines have inspired you? Comment below to share your favourites…

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Caroline Woodward-Court

Caroline is Khoollect's resident book reviewer. This lady has had her noses in books since she can r...

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