Five of the Best Feminist Fiction
Feminist fiction is one of my favourite genres to read. Anything that makes me proud to be a woman or makes me realise how important it is to still be a feminist is great in my book (had to get a pun in here somewhere!) So in this article I have listed my top 5 feminist books that I think every woman should read.
1. Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls
I will always, always, ALWAYS adore this book. She is a bit thick, but I honestly didn’t even notice because the story is so brilliant. It follows the lives of three young women who join the fight to vote. There’s so much to love about this book, from the bad-ass characters to the incredibly sweet love story between May and Nell. This is a book that I always recommend to everyone as it’s one I believe everyone should read. It is fiction, but it draws on some very real experiences that real women would’ve had to have gone through.
Wow. If I had to sum up this book with one word it would be ‘wow’. I adored this book, it was thought-provoking, moving, funny, sweet and very, very real.
It’s been a few days since I’ve read the book and I still don’t know how to get my feelings about it down on paper. They are all good feelings, I just think this book has stirred up something in me that I can’t really explain.
There isn’t really much of an actual ‘plot’ to this novel, but it certainly is a story. It’s a story about three young suffragettes (Evelyn, May, and Nell) from very different backgrounds and their lives during the suffragette movement and their lives during the first world war. It was really interesting to see how all of these girls were affected differently and it really opened my eyes to some of the issues that people, especially the poor, faced. This book made me think about things I have never thought about before, and not just about the suffragette movement. It made me think about what it must’ve been like to have a loved one at war, to live in poverty, to have to sell your belongings and what it was like to be a girl attracted to other girls during this time. And none of them were easy!
What I liked most about this novel was how real the ending was. When women got a limited right to vote after the war (not a spoiler – it’s a fact in history!) it felt very bittersweet. There wasn’t a huge celebration about it like I thought there would be, the fact of the matter was that none of the main characters would still be able to vote because they didn’t meet the criteria. Therefore you’re left feeling rather unsatisfied by the ending but I think that’s how you’re supposed to feel because that’s exactly how these characters would’ve felt.
This is probably the worst review I have ever written in my life but I feel like I’ll never be able to explain how much I love this book without a series of strange hand gestures and odd noises. You just need to read it. Just read it. But be warned: your angry feminist inside you will be triggered.
2. Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman
In this non-fiction book, Cathy Newman writes about the pioneering women who went against all odds and made history. Of course, she talks about the regular household names, but also of the women whose names have been forgotten. If you’re looking to feel a huge amount of pride to be a woman, this book is definitely for you.
3. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
The Water Cure is a pretty haunting novel that follows the lives of three sisters who have grown up on a remote island and, as women, have to go through a serious of pretty horrific rituals such as drowning. Now, a lot of you may be thinking that this doesn’t sound like a book that will make you feel good about being a woman at all, but hear me out. After reading this book and reading what these poor girls had to go through, it made me more of an angry feminist than ever. It made me recognise my privilege as a woman living in the UK and realise that there is still a hell of a long way to go in order for every woman in this world to be considered ‘equal’. Of course, as far as I know, woman are not being kept away from men on an island and forced to partake in cult-like activities, but there are still women who don’t get equal opportunities as men and who are forced into marriages. So yes, I would call this book a feminist book because it reminded me that feminism is an ongoing battle.
This Review contains spoilers.
The Water Cure is centred around three sisters; Lia, Grace, and Sky who live on an isolated island with their mother and father (referred to as ‘king’). They have been taught that the rest of the world is dangerous and toxic to women and they have to go through sadistic rituals designed to purify and strengthen them. These rituals are anything from drinking glass after glass of saltwater until they vomit, burning, submerging their hands and feet in ice water, and drowning. Women used to come to the island in order to be purified, but they no longer do.
I will start off by saying that this book will not be for everyone. Sometimes the torture can be quite graphic and hard to read. However, if you can handle it, then I strongly, STRONGLY recommend that you read this book.
I really loved the premise of the book and was really excited to read it, but I have to admit that I wasn’t completely sold on it until I got through the first section, ‘Father’, of the book. But once I got to the ‘Men’ section, I couldn’t put it down. What I’m saying is that the first section is a bit slow and hard to get through, but this could’ve been because it took me a while to get used to the writing style.
The first section is told for a variety of different viewpoints. The first viewpoint is, well, all of them (Grace, Lia, Sky). It is written in plurals which gives these chapters a really creepy vibe. Then there is the viewpoint of Grace, who directs her chapters as if she is talking to her supposedly dead father, and Lia – whose viewpoint we see the most and talks in first person. Interestingly, Sky never gets her own chapters. I really loved the way that this book was written, it felt eerie, magical, and even though it was set in the future it had a real ‘old world’ feel about it.
This book has a real sense of “everything is not what it seems” running throughout the novel. Mackintosh does a great job of hinting that there is something else going on all throughout the novel without actually saying anything directly. Obviously, there is something not right going on – these girls are going through sadistic rituals for goodness sake! However, there was always doubt in the back of my mind regarding the truthfulness of Mother and King’s words. This is a cult. This is a cult. Was constantly repeating in my mind and you will have to read it in order to get your own insight an opinion.
I really took to the character of Lia more than any other of the sisters. Yes, we did hear from her the most but she felt the least brainwashed out of them all. Obviously, she wasn’t completely right in the head; no one would be considering what she has gone through. I felt really sorry for her. All she really wanted was to be loved in the way that she loves other people. As proved by some of the rituals, she would do absolutely anything for her sisters and you get the feeling that they wouldn’t do the same for them. She is very naïve, and very quickly falls for one of the men who takes a whole lot of advantage of her.
This book raises a lot of questions about humanity and who is actually the villain of the book. Is it King? Mother? The men? Or is it the sisters? In reality, it could be any one of them, depending on which perspective you choose to take. The sisters are very clearly victims, but they certainly aren’t innocent and that brought up a lot of inner conflict to me as the reader. But that was the beauty of this book. It makes you question everything.
Other reviews have described this book as “eerie, electric and beautiful.”, “creepy and delightful.”, and “powerfully unsettling, calmly disturbing.” This book is all of those things. I couldn’t think of more accurate words to describe this book. It is disturbing and dark and creepy but it is also beautiful delightful and poetic and is one that should definitely be added to your list.
4. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Red Clocks is about the lives of five women in a new America where abortion has become illegal again. I have always been pro-choice. There is nothing anyone can say that would make me change my mind, and I would never do anything to try and convince someone who is pro-life that they are wrong. We are all allowed our own opinions. But for me, I can’t imagine a world where I didn’t have the choice. In many places across the world, women don’t have a choice. Heck, it’s only recently in Northern Ireland that the abortion law has changed! I got quite emotional reading this book as I had to follow one girl’s journey to obtain an abortion illegally. Again, this book I class as feminism in the same way that I class The Water Cure as feminism, it reminds me of why I became a feminist in the first place.
Red Clocks follows the story of five women in a near-futuristic world where abortion and in-vitro fertilisation is banned. All of the women are from very different backgrounds but all of them are connected in one way or another.
I actually really enjoyed this novel. I was compelled by the concept and even more compelled by the characters. It was one of those novels where there wasn’t really much of storyline, but there was so much that happened. There was a trial that reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird and the whole thing had a very The Handmaid’s Tale vibe to it, but it was a very unique story that I still think about months after I’ve read it.
I found the writing style to be extremely odd and it took a lot of getting used to. The story had five different perspectives going on, and the chapters never opened with their real names, it was always ‘the biographer’ or ‘the mender’ and sometimes the chapter heading would run on into the text (if that makes any sense). It did take me a while to get my head around it, but once I did I really enjoyed it.
While I liked all of the characters individually for their own specific reasons, the character I loved most was Mattie. She gets pregnant when she is just a teenager and I really felt for her. I felt for her because I wasn’t a teenager that long ago and I could really imagine how scared she was.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book because of the controversial message that is in it. It’s refreshing to see a book where there is no fighting for a revolution and just follows the everyday life of people struggling with this new world.
5. The Book of Essie by Megan Maclean Weir
I ended up adoring this book after a very rocky start. Essie is such an incredible character, she is smart and cunning and stuck in a situation that she has no control over. In The Book of Essie, Essie takes control of her life after it being controlled by her family for her entire 16 years, and she does it in a way that makes her mother believe that she is the one that’s in control – brilliant! This books takes a dark turn that I wasn’t expecting and I completely commend Essie on her bravery. She’s an incredible character.
This one took me a good few months to get through. Not because it was bad or I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, it’s just one of those books that you can put down and come back to so easily because it’s such an easy read.
The Book of Essie is about a sixteen-year-old girl who has grown up in the spotlight of a reality TV show about her family called Six for Hicks. Essie gets pregnant, and the book follows her cunning plan of how to handle it.
Let’s get the things I didn’t like about this book out of the way first. I found the middle of the book a little bit long-winded. Not extremely, but enough for me to not be gripped by it anymore and not have a burning desire to pick it back up again immediately. I also didn’t really care for Liberty. I found myself sometimes even skim-reading her sections, especially in the middle, because I didn’t really care about her back story. I felt like I should’ve felt some sort of sympathy for her, but I really didn’t. I felt like screaming ‘oh my god shut up and just do your job’ a lot of the time. And I feel bad saying that, but I just found her so, so annoying.
However, I really did like the beginning of the book and when it picked up towards the end. I loved Essie’s character and how she managed to manipulate the whole situation so that her mother was playing directly into her hand, even if her mother didn’t know it. Overall, I thought it was extremely clever. Essie is such a complicated character with a pretty messed up life, and the book did a great job of portraying that without it being too glaringly obvious.
This book also took a pretty effed upturn in the end also and it got me so frigging mad that so many people in Essie’s life knew what had happened, yet no one was saying anything in fears of harming theirs, and the shows, reputation. By the end, I was very much hooked.