Sometimes you come across a book that is so delicious, so immediately enjoyable, that you just want to shove it whole into your mouth and never let it out. You know the ones, where after reading just the first few lines you know instinctively that you and this book are going to fall in love, and that it will be a delight. For the next day or so the pair of you will be snuggled up together on the couch, curled deeply in intimacy while you devour it page by luxurious page. I’m not talking here about the weighty tomes, or the Thomas Hardy’s, but rather those that reel you in with scarlet silk and snappy prose, fun but still elegant and charming.
I have fallen in love many times with books such as these, but here is a little sample, a little nibble, of some of my favourites. All six are strongly female driven, with women narrators and a strong feminist stance – just the way I like it.
Wise Children, Angela Carter (1991)
Nora and Dora Chance, slinky singing and dancing twins that tramp upon the music hall boards, make a divine pair of narrators. Angela Carter always has her finger firmly pressed against the vibrant and outrageous pulse of humour, and Wise Children is no exception. It takes you on a dizzying ride of love affairs, eccentrics and grease paint, with just a cheeky hint of incest thrown in for good measure.
The Crimson Petal and The White, Michael Faber (2002)
If you had the misfortune to see the BBC adaption of this, please don’t judge the book by that cover. While the tv series was somber and dark, the book is a glorious hurricane of sex, humour and Victorian filth. The character arc of Sugar, the dry skinned, flame haired prostitute has you with her all the way, cheering her on. It does get a little more grim towards the end, but nonetheless it is utterly engaging and great fun to read.
The Travelling Hornplayer, Barbara Trapido (1998)
This was one of those books that I picked up in Oxfam on a whim, as I hadn’t heard of Barbara Trapido before. It has all the qualities of a tremendous read: twins, sex, death and a cello. I read it in one day, not even putting it down to walk to the shops or to feed myself (I’m very good at one handed eating). After I had finished it I went out and bought every book that Trapido had ever written. This was, alas, a mistake, as The Travelling Hornplayer seems to be her pièce de résistance, and I found her earlier novels to be a bit too wet and fluffy. But this one was a triumph.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark (1961)
Muriel Spark is the literary love of my life. Her sharp, acerbic tongue lights up my brain, and her dry humour never fails to draw me in. This is by far her most famous novel, and while I also have a strong passion for The Girls of Slender Means, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is insurmountable. Our heroine is such a glorious nightmare of a woman, that you can’t fail but to fall in love with her.
The Power, Naomi Alderman (2016)
Another book that I absolutely could not put down, The Power made my nerves sing with pride, horror, hope and fear. Brilliantly written, Alderman is a master storyteller, oscillating between different narratives to construct a world where the patriarchy is reversed, and women have the Power. Brilliant.
The Life and Loves of a She Devil, Fay Weldon (1983)
I’m cheating a little with this one, as I have just listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation with the eternally marvellous Hattie Morahan narrating. The tone of the novel reminded me a lot of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a glorious tale of vengeance, sex and secret identities. I will certainly be reading the novel in full in the very near future, a treat to look forward to.
Have you read them already? What did you think? What are some of your favourite female driven novels?