Some of the best books I have read have been written, narrated or staring women. So let’s celebrate some wonderful female characters! Below are 5 books with interesting female characters – if you have your own suggestions for books with interesting female leads let me know!
The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
Wharton’s writing reflects the elegance of the time, whilst forcing the reader to confront the restraints place upon women at the start of the 20th Century. Through a number of events Wharton reveals the selfishness and superficiality of the society in which Lily is eventually cast out of.
Lily, the beautiful but tragic protagonist, is part of New York high society. Although, she has little money of her own and is reliant on the ‘charity’ of her friends. Lily attempts to stabilise her position through marriage, however is self-sabotaging as her integrity prevents her from picking a man simply because of his money. When she fails to marry Lily attempts to become independent, something which is admirable for a girl at the turn of the century with her class status.
Wharton also highlights that, in many case, women in literature are given two options: marry or perish. An interesting concept that has changed the way I look at both books and films with female characters.
This book is wonderfully written and heartbreakingly tragic.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale has been everywhere in recent years, partly due to Atwood’s incredible writing, and partly due to the story and themes that still resonate today. The removal of sexual autonomy from the handmaids speaks today with the #metoo movements and the Harvey Weinstein revelations. In addition, the closure of schools and universities, and the removal of shop signs to prevent women from reading, connects to the fight for women’s right to education in developing countries.
Atwood’s vision of the world is one that is not difficult to imagine, however terrifying it might be. Offred’s enslavement is the main focus, and her story is of course one of the most interesting and horrifying. However, there are other interesting female characters, such as Moira and even Serena Joy. Atwood presents the oppressed female society as having it’s own undercurrent of power that, given the right circumstances, could take back control.
Play it as it Lays – Joan Didion
Play It As It Lays is brilliant! The novel follows Maria and her Hollywood life. Didion’s writing brings into sharp focus the strange lives of those around her and the chaos of society. Didion expertly takes you into the lives of others, exploring marriages and the illegal abortions of the time and their consequences.
Didion really gets under your skin with her writing, and this book will stay with you for some time!
Neon Angel – Cherie Currie and Tony O’Neill
Neon Angel is the biography of Cherie Currie, a fascinating woman who went from rock band, drug addict teenager, to chainsaw artist/fitness guru/counsellor.
Cherie found fame in The Runaways alongside Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox and Sandy West. She faced abuse from Kim Fowley and became pregnant with another of the manager’s child. Alongside the chaos of the music industry an exhausted Cherie had to handle the break up of her family and her father’s own addiction issues.
Cherie writes candidly about her drug abuse, her kidnapping and torture, and how she eventually pulled herself away from the edge to be an incredibly inspiring woman.
The film just doesn’t do justice to what Cherie endured and how she overcame all of these issues.
The Romance of a Shop – Amy Levy
Levy subverts expectations and shows how women could break tradition in the 1880s to have their own lives.
The Lorimer sisters are faced with being separated after the death of their father, however the decide to avoid an easy, traditional route and open their own photography business. Levy explores how the four very different sisters fair in this world where women were photography assistants, taking on less skilled tasks.
However, the ending is somewhat frustrating and, like Wharton, brings into focus the fate of women in literature.