Ever since I finished Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series (which I reviewed here), I've felt like I just lost a good friend. I miss the main characters, I had hoped to grow old with them.
So in a quest to "relive" Ferrante's magic, I've been reading feminist fiction like crazy.
What is feminist fiction?
Honestly, I have no idea. But if you google enough, certain titles start to reappear.
Why feminist fiction?
Basically, I wanted to read novels about women. And I didn't want them to be funny or silly or to make fun of themselves. As much as I love (and I do love) Bridget Jone's Diary, I hoped to spend a few weeks discovering stories about female friendships and female thoughts and female problems and I did not want any of it dumbed down. I wanted REAL.
Here's what I found:
1. The Women's Room - This book, published in 1977, was a huge bestseller at the time. Forty years later some of the main character's problems seem dated. Does anyone feel the need to marry right out of high school anymore? Nevertheless many of the characters' problems are disturbingly current - for example, the rape scene in which they blame the girl sounds shockingly familiar in today's world, as does the endless need to balance children and a career.
What I liked best - The author's descriptions of women's friendships.
What I liked least - Some parts drag. In an effort to tell the story of several different women, the book often loses focus and tends to meander.
2. The Country Girls Trilogy - This novel centers on two Irish girls in the 1950s. And if The Women's Room made things seem bad, the girls in this book are often little more than chattel. You just keep waiting for someone to love them as much as you do or, at the least, to acknowledge them as human beings. It's a tough read.
As summarized on Wikipedia, "O'Brien's works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole. Her first novel, The Country Girls, is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II. The book was banned, burned and denounced from the pulpit, and O'Brien left Ireland behind."
What I liked best - The writing is stellar. And, yet again, the portrait of this complicated friendship is wonderful to read.
What I liked least - It's a sad book. Perhaps too sad.
3. Beloved - I can't believe I turned 40 without reading this classic about a former slave haunted by her baby's ghost.
What I liked best - Morrison's wording and descriptions are like nothing I've ever read. Words seem to dance off the page. No wonder she won the Nobel Prize.
What I liked least - Certain sections are slow. The beginning is confusing (REALLY confusing), though if you keep reading, it all comes together.
4. The Golden Notebook - Every feminist reading list includes this book. It's like THE BOOK. Which makes sense as Lessing won the Nobel Prize. The novel's storyline revolves around Anna, the main character's, four notebooks. "In one, with a black cover, [Anna] reviews the African experience of her earlier years. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in a blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna resolves to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook."
What I liked best - The main character's struggle to live independently in a world where such independence is constantly judged.
What I liked least - The final 100 pages are just boring. Lessing describes (in detail) a tumultuous relationship, but reading about this relationship makes you hate both the participants, you just want out.
5. The Fifth Child - Once I read one Doris Lessing book, I had to read another. The Fifth Child is COMPLETELy different from the Golden Notebook. For starters, it's a much easier read (lots of suspense). Further, the main characters of both novels have almost nothing in common.
The Fifth Child tells the story of a couple who wants to have a large family. Despite some ups and downs, everything goes pretty well until the fifth child is born. He's not quite Rosemary's Baby, but he's close.
How do you mother a child whose every instinct involves inflicting pain on others? And how do you protect your other children from such a creature. In a world where parents are blamed for every little thing they do wrong, this book is a MUST READ. After reading it, you can't stop thinking - but what is right? what would I do?
What I liked best - This book will be with me forever. The moral quandary presented haunts me at night.
What I liked least - There's a certain coldness to the book. As if you feel more empathy for the mother than the author does. I'm still not sure how I feel about this as a writing technique.