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Rat Girl: A Memoir Paperback – August 31, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143117394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143117391
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hersh, who founded the band the Throwing Muses in the 1980s, explores the mysterious, volatile nature of both creativity and mental balance in this flinty, dreamlike memoir of her precocious, unconventional teens. As her band gains recognition, Hersh is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and with riveting prose, she describes episodes of burning energy in which music comes in both sound and color and demands to be written: “My job, as it turns out, is only to shut up and listen.” Prescription drugs mute the process, but after she becomes pregnant and chooses to have the child, Hersh tries life without meds. Song lyrics and diary entries mix with Hersh’s memories, which read more like poetic, sometimes satiric impressions rather than traditional autobiography. Whether she is describing her childhood with hippie parents (Dude and Crane), her wildly diverse friends (including Betty, an aging, self-proclaimed former Hollywood star), or childbirth classes with grimly competitive yuppies, Hersh presents a refreshingly raw, insightful, and singular coming-of-age story. --Gillian Engberg



Rat Girl is the story of a wide-eyed soul coming to maturity in the ridiculous cacophony of modern life. Although it is supposedly about what we call, for lack of a better term, 'manic depression,' it has nearly no interest in such grim diagnostic thinking. It is instead awestruck - by music, feeling, perception, wild animals, mystery, dreams, 'the gorgeous and terrible things that live in your house.' It is an original beauty.” – Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica and Don't Cry

“Sensitive and emotionally raw… it is also wildly funny.” – Rob Sheffield, New York Times Book Review 

“Funny, freaky, fidgety, Hersh's memoir is the book a fan didn't dare hope for: a beacon in a dark field, illuminating the mysterious and the mundane. Beautifully, honestly, written and as close as you will ever get to being in a Throwing Muses song.” – Wesley Stace, author of Misfortune and By George

#8 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time

“Her narrative voice is warm, friendly and surprisingly funny. Deep down it's a story about messed-up kids finding one other, starting a band, and accidentally scrounging up an audience of similarly messed-up kids. It belongs on the shelf next to Michael Azerrad's classic Our Band Could Be Your Life.” – Rolling Stone

“Ultra-vivid writing and intense honesty is what you'd expect from Kristin Hersh, one of America's finest songwriters. But Rat Girl is also a startlingly funny and touching memoir of her mid-Eighties moment as the bi- polar, pregnant, intermittently homeless frontwoman of a rising indie-rock band. It's a gripping journey into mental chaos and out the other side.” – Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84

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Customer Reviews

An interesting read whether you are a fan of her music or not.
If you're a fan of Kristin Hersh, this book is just what you'd expect from an artist capable of creating such haunting, complex, and beautiful music.
I found this book to be really engaging, funny and well written.
Ger Devine

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Rich Becker on August 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
Sometimes when you read a book, you curl up and embrace it. Rarely does it embrace you back. Rat Girl: A Memoir (aka Paradoxical Undressing in the U.K.), written by Kristin Hersh is one such book. A rarity.

The cover may be black, but you won't find a single stitch of black in the content. Don't ask me to assign it another. In the opening pages of her book, Hersh mentions that colors splashed across a canvas are all too quiet. The book, like her music, is vibrant. Chords have color. Her favorite color is green.

"Every time I think I'm done, I pick another song out of the chaos in the air. There songs're keeping me alive so they can be alive."

Despite following her story from one spring to the next (1985), it reads free from the trappings of time. Each part is oddly permanent, as if it exists in space, waiting to be played again.

This makes for an interesting narrative. Instead of relying on seamless transitions, Hersh ties stories together by lines of inspired lyrics and, occasionally, relevant 3- to 5-paragraph memories from her early childhood. It's also loaded with wit that will make you smile. It's as celebratory as her music. And in between some sad notes, expect to laugh out loud. Frequently.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Young on November 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
I had never heard of the band Throwing Muses before reading this book. Yet I was instantly intrigued by Kristin's story. The child of hippies, Kristin is a shy, yet extremely smart, teenager. She feels music with every fiber of her being. At time, the music comes to her, playing over and over in her head until she picks up guitar and writes the song. As her band is becoming popular, Kristin is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Hersh's writing about being bipolar is extremely powerful and moving. Through her words, the reader experiences what it feels like for her during her powerful manic states. After reading this book I feel as if Kristin is a close friend, one who has shared her insights and muses with me.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By giovanni on December 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
I remember there was a time when i was fifteen-sixteen when music was everything to me . I took it all very seriously and i really felt that my two or three favourite rock groups said more about me than a diary would and somehow defined me . Love was a fairly unknown delicacy back then and confusion was the main element in my teenagehood . I was so dissapointed when , for example , Belly's "King" didnt sell much or when people i striked a music conversation with had no idea who Lush or Jason Falkner was ( they probably still don't ) .

I became familiar with Hersh's body of work later in life . Although often challenging and difficult , her music was so raw and honest you couldn't help but admiring her . Her recently released memoir took me back again to that time when music meant the world . Hersh was an outsider in school herself , one who made great music and was happy doing just that and nothing more . Her wandering around in deserted houses for a sleep-over , walks on a beach with a friend , college corridors and , later in the book , recording studios and especially her interactions with bandmates Narcizo , Langstone and step-sister Donelly ring so true and unspoiled . Her blurry thoughts about her writing process and songs resemble a lot to the feelings indie kids have for the music they love but find it impossible to express or pin down .

Unlike disastrous efforts like let's say Sting's " Broken Music " , this is truly how a music memoir should be . Hersh herself , now a mother of 4 and still producing special , complicated records , has long outgrown the book and like she says , this is a potrait of a girl she once was , not of who she is today as a person . Still it was so refreshing for me to travel in her little time-capsule and recall how innocent and dark it all was in that tender , vulnerable age .
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer L. Manlowe on March 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
Who knew my favorite 90s lead singer, Kristin Hersh of the "Throwing Muses," would write and publish her memoirs at age 45? Some might say, "She's too young to recall a long life worthy of a reader's interest!" But, memoir need not be a long life story at all. "Rat Girl" is a great example of the difference between anthology and memoir. As Gore Vidal writes in his own memoir, "Palimpsests," "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked."

Kristin's "Rat Girl" focuses on a year in the life of a freakishly-talented and proudly-odd teenage girrrl and successfully escapes the shackles of drudgery that the autobiography can impose--all those dates, and odious facts! Instead, Hersh creates art out of life, art out of the essence of a lived experience. After all, "Art is seduction," writes Susan Sontag in her essay "On Style." "But art cannot seduce without the complicity of the experiencing subject."

Hersh takes her insights and weaves them in with the craft of the gifted lyricist that she is. According to the reviewer in Booklist, "Song lyrics and diary entries mix with Hersh's memories, which read more like poetic, sometimes satiric impressions rather than traditional autobiography.... Hersh presents a refreshingly raw, insightful, and singular coming-of-age story."

Again, Hersh is a free-wheeling memoirist not an autobiographer of a life viewed from the illusion of objective taxonomist.

I was lucky to first meet Kirstin through her "hippie philosopher" father while conducting research at Brown University (in Providence, RI). Seeing her that spring morning with her brand new baby and then watching her perform late into the night was something she made seem perfectly "normal.
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