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Rat Girl: A Memoir Paperback – August 31, 2010

45 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143117394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143117391
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 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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14 of 14 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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16 of 17 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Reid VINE VOICE on September 17, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This memoir is magnificent. Thank God.

When an artist you like branches out into a field that's new--an actor rapping, say, or a musician writing books, you kind of follow along with a bit of trepidation. It seems polite to be part of the audience, but quite often these divergences are more embarrassing than anything else. I love memoirs, and I have long loved Kristin Hersh. I wasn't sure they would mix.

They do.

This memoir covers Kristin's late adolescence. Throwing Muses is already a band, not yet successful, struggling to define its place just as Kristin is struggling to define her own, coming to grips with the mood disorder that shook her life. She leaves out many details, but none of the ones that matter. This is a memoir, after all (literally, mémoire, memory), and not an autobiography. This is not about the hardcore facts, but about what she perceives, remembers, prioritizes in her past. It leaves us less informed than an autobiography, but more involved. We feel a part of her daily life.

There's a fine sense of pacing here. Most of the memoir is lineal, but interspersed are small snippets of song lyrics and short passages from other times, distinguished by a different typeface. Together, they give a more complete picture of the author--the song lyrics offer another view of how she filters her experience into her art; the "flashbacks" a hint into the earlier passages of the person she is becoming. But she does not allow them to derail the primary thread of her story.

I found that story utterly engrossing. Kristin neither romanticizes nor catastrophizes her life and the challenges she faces. She delicately skirts some of the darker issues, but remains true to the emotional core.
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