What’s Looking Up Vagina all about?:
Looking Up Vagina is the story of a teenage boy who has just begun puberty and how he copes with the inevitable teenage angst that accompanies it.
What did I think?:
I went into this story incredibly intrigued and I admit with quite a few chuckles as I tried to guess what the story would be involve. Did Looking Up Vagina refer to the use of a dictionary? Or did the author go down a slightly cruder line gynaecologically speaking? Ahem.Thankfully, I was closer to the subject matter with my dictionary idea. The story is about a thirteen year old boy who has just started to grow pubic hair, a strange moment for any teenager but he also happens to be the first boy in his class at school to do so. From the very first paragraph the reader understands that this monumental moment in his life will only serve to make his time at school even more miserable than it already is and give his bullies yet another reason for tormenting him:
“He’d vaguely assumed that this might be something the other boys would be envious of. Perhaps even awestruck by. Something which would make them see him in a new light. But it turned out to be just one more thing they could use in their campaign of vilification against him.”
Poor guy. Our narrator dreams about the pubic hairs changing his life for the better. No tripping him up in the hallways and perhaps someone might even talk to him between lessons, on the bus etc. This is unfortunately not the case, and when his pubic hairs are noticed he is taunted and emotionally abused. One nasty incident in particular leaves our main character unable to attend school for a few days where he mostly lies in bed, looking up the word vagina in the dictionary. Like any thirteen year old boy, he is curious about sex but his self-esteem is at rock bottom and in a few years he fully expects name calling as he is confident he will probably still be a virgin.
Jon McGregor has a wonderful talent in making the reader really feel and empathise with certain characters. For me, our teenager in this short story was definitely a character I was rooting for, felt terrible for and hoped for a happy ending. Jon McGregor is no fairy tale writer however and he presents this story with a dash of gritty realism which I think a lot of people will be able to relate to. He also used a very interesting tool which made this short story even more beautiful than it already is. That is to say he used words scattered here and there as if he had opened a dictionary on the letter “V,” and then challenged himself to use as many relevant words as possible using that letter within the story. So we have words like vanguard, verdant, verge, vigorously, verify, vicarious and vicinity amongst many others which all made sense in the context with which it was presented. Even the last word is “vindicated,” and thinking about it further, it was such a clever and quirky way to tell a story. I’m still wondering how hard it would have been to choose appropriate words beginning with “V,” and will probably muse on it for a few days to come. This is definitely a fascinating story and one I’d love to hear your opinions on if you’ve read it. Looking forward to the next!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: The Pool by Daphne Du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point