Ask the book buyer about the best new fiction by women writers
‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. So said Virginia Woolf in her famous 1929 essay A Room One’s Own, which saw her branded a radical feminist simply for arguing that women should have the same conditions as men in which to be creative – to write. As I type this, the longlist for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction has just been announced and the 16-strong, diverse range of novels recognised is testament to quite how far we’ve come!
With the added celebrations this March of Women’s History Month (in the USA, UK and Australia), International Women’s Day on the 8th and Mother’s Day the 31st, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to dedicate this fortnight’s book edit to a selection of novels by contemporary women writers.
These picks aren’t from the Women’s Prize longlist (you’ll find those in-store though and we’d love to know your favourites) but all are deserving of the spotlight: powerful, gripping, brilliant examples of fiction by women writers today.
We Must Be Brave by France Liardet
If you enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See and The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society I think you’ll like this gorgeously sweeping, passionate, though understated novel about wartime, motherhood, courage and finding love in unexpected places. Opening in December 1940 we meet Ellen in a small village near Southampton, who finds a 5-year-old girl, Pamela, alone on a bus and takes her in. An unexpected bond forms between them, though Ellen had never wanted children, but at the end of the war she learns Pamela isn’t the orphan she believed her to be and they are parted. Over the decades the repercussions play out as the novel’s apparent gentleness is revealed to be deceptive; beneath the restrained exterior of Ellen’s daily life are deep scars and fierce loyalties. A redemptive, memorable read.
The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
I love everything Samantha Harvey writes but I’m not sure she gets the vast readership she deserves. I hope to convert a few more here at least! The Western Wind is a stunning historical mystery which opens on the morning of Shrove Tuesday, 1491, in a tiny village near Oakham, where the priest, Reve, learns both that a man has been drowned and the richest man in the village is missing. Ingeniously, the story unfolds backwards over four days as the mystery unravels. The writing is vivid, the Medieval setting wonderfully atmospheric and Reve’s tussle between real life and his faith is utterly captivating. For fans of Hilary Mantel and The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley.
The Dreamers by Karen Thomson-Walker
From page one the writing is mesmeric and elegant, with a story as mysterious as the title, as an unexplained sleeping sickness spreads across a college campus in California and beyond into the local town. While more and more people succumb, it becomes clear that though they are physically asleep, their brains are showing signs of increased activity; they are dreaming. We weave in and out of the lives of key characters affected by the sickness and are prompted to think deeply about how we live, what we dream, how we react to danger and more. I promise that opening up this book, you will be affected in the opposite way to its characters – you won’t be able to sleep until you finish it!
£14.99 (£2 off at Jarrold)
The Snakes by Sadie Jones
I debated whether to include this one as I was so stunned by the time I finished it, for reasons I can’t describe without giving the plot away! This is my plea to you to read it so we can discuss! Jones is feted for her historical fiction (namely The Outcast) but this, her first contemporary-set novel, is far darker than I expected, exploring the destructive power of wealth, greed and corruption, centring on a young married couple Bea and Dan. They rent out their London flat and travel to Europe but while there, Dan realises for the first time that Bea is from a hugely wealthy family, her father a property baron, and it’s her family who draw them into a complex, immoral and tragic drama.
Chatto & Windus,
£14.99 (£2 off at Jarrold)