How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

The School of Hardbacks

How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much


Chatto & Windus 272pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Samantha Ellis is a dramatist and bibliomaniac. Her mother, an Iraqi Jew, was persecuted and imprisoned before escaping from Baghdad and arriving in London, where she met and married Ellis’s father. Growing up with stories of her family’s heroic past, Ellis dreamed of having adventures of her own and of one day escaping from the small, contained north London Jewish community in which she was raised. As soon as she could read, she absorbed herself in the lives of other – fictional – heroines, whom she used as signposts to her freedom. 

These figures were drawn from the usual syllabus for growing girls: A Little Princess, Little Women, Ballet Shoes, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind and Jilly Cooper’s Riders. Ellis gleaned something from each of them: from Ballet Shoes she understood what stage fright felt like;

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