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The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox / novel recommendations(66 Posts)
I have just read The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox after Glosswitch recommended it in one of her mail outs. I read it quickly, it gripped me, and I'm glad, I think, overall, that I read it. But mainly I feel pissed off with the plot. Three central female characters, themes of society's expectations of women, poor understanding of mental health issues... it could have been really good but just wasn't.
With Christmas coming up and the possibility of books coming my way, I wondered if anyone could recommend something else please? Ideally novels as I have a lot of the recent nonfiction to get to but equally please feel free just to recommend away in case someone else is looking for suggestions.
I know there is a books section on Mumsnet but I thought here might be a better place to try.
Does it have to be books by women about women?
The novel I've enjoyed most this year was David Mitchell's Utopia Avenue.
I also really liked Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel
Happy for the central characters to be male but would prefer any female characters to be well written rather than just plot points / murder victims / there to give an extra dimension to the men. I will look those novels up, thank you. Only David Mitchell I have tried is Cloud Atlas years ago which I didn't get on with at all so interested to look up Utopia Avenue, and I haven't heard of the wonderfully named Emily St. John Mandel.
It's been a while since I read that one, but Maggie O'Farrell is normally excellent.
Isn't the poor understanding of mental health issues because it represented the Victorian misunderstand of mental health issues?
Yes Possum, it was partly the lack of understanding at that time, compounded by their idea of what was acceptable for a female. The behaviour that saw Esme treated as she was (trying to avoid spoilers) would have had a different outcome for a male. Interesting premise but the ending let it down on that aspect for me.
I also loved Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which like Utopia Avenue is also about a fictitious band.
Utopia Avenue is a far more straightforward narrative than Cloud Avenue (which personally I think is the equal to Bleak House as the greatest English novel)
I just read We begin at the end by Chris Whitaker. It's a crime novel. One of the two central characters is a 13 year old girl. She has a strong, compelling voice. And agency. It's a rare five out of five stars for me. Central themes are violence, survival, atonement, forgiveness and revenge.
I think Maggie O'Farrell is kind of variable in quality.
My favourite novel so far this year was Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. The novel - and her views on the trans issue - have been debated elsewhere on the FWR forum!
My favourite novels last year were Circe by Madeline Miller and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Both featuring fully rounded female characters.
Three books; old, older and oldest in terms of age.
One of my all-time favourite books: Ride on Stranger by Kylie Tennant. Set in pre-war Australia, it is funny and sad and angry, but ultimately resilient. As a young woman comes of age, she recognises the ways in which society tries to break women, but she refuses to buckle.
The Bone People by Keri Hulme. It might break your heart, but the protagonist is eccentric and powerfully herself. Honourable mention Lillian’s Story by Kate Grenville.
The Women in Black bu Madeleine St John. I really like that the women are at the forefront of the story, and despite it being set in the 1950s, the book is about women doing well for themselves.
I think I'm the only person on the planet who didn't like The Dutch House. I just didn't care what happened.
I mentioned Emily St. John Mandel, Station 11 is really good too.
If you like science fiction Chris Beckett's Dark Eden trilogy is a fantastic page- turner (actually all his stuff is great)
Or Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky about a planet whose dominant species spiders in a matriarchal structure.
Minette Walters black death, The Turn of Midnight and The Last Hours had a female main character which should fit your bill.
Or crime/thriller Jane Harper's The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell was excellent, despite the title the focus is mostly female.
I also really liked Crawdads by Delia Owens and Circe by Madeline Miller.
Currently reading Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker which is a retelling of the Trojan war from the perspective of some of the women involved.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is one of my all time favourite reads
Rip now but Margaret Foster has some good novels. I've read so many I forget but Have The Men Had Enough and Mothers' Boys spring to mind
I love the female characters in Kate Atkinson's novels. Life After Life is by far my favourite.
Thanks for all these. When I have done some parenting I will be making a list. Most I have never heard of which is ace.
I loved Crawdads GoodyWoolf, gave it to my MIL who loved it and gave it to her neighbour. My sister couldn't finish it but loved Esme Lennox.
Recent reads that have stayed with me are
Bitter by Francesca Jakobi, bit melodramatic but enjoyed it.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane which has a similar strand around an aspect of motherhood as Bitter actually.
Twenty-One Locks by Laura Barton. Easy read but well put together.
Looking forward to latest Lissa Evans.
Of recent books there has been a fuss over,
Normal People made me really cross, and Hot Milk I took back to the library when the lifeguard arrived on the scene because it seemed like he was going to be a creepy weirdo and just I wasn't in the mood. I've since been told he isn't so might try again.
Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Stroutt.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is beautifully written.
I think it was her thesis but I could be wrong.
Anything by Barbara Kingsolver. I loved her early books but expected to hate The Poisonwood Bible (yes I am shallow but novels about African politics are as unappealing as misery novels about the Scottish working class) but I loved it and learnt a lot (most of which I've now forgotten)
I second the recommendation for Burial Rites and third the recommendation for ^The Poisonwood Bible!
Another excellent female-centred novel is Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore.
I loved Crawdads. Favourite book of the year.
Educated by Tara Westover reminded me a bit of it (eh, well it's about a girl growing up somewhat neglected in America. It's close enough ) it's drags a little in places but is a decent read. Insight into abuse and cover up, perseverance and resilience.
I'm reading The Foundling just now, there's lots of complex female characters interacting. I feel like I'm actually in 18th century London until I'm distracted by my phone getting a text or something.
My mum has given me Diary of an Ordinary Woman to read but I haven't started it yet. Looks interesting though.
I hated Normal People. I was so angry when I finished it, I sent various people that I knew had read it enraged texts. Then someone texted back that I was just being typical Marianne and I was apoplectic
Couldn’t be bothered with Normal People or Hot Milk. Bored by both.
Love everything I’ve ever read by Barbara Kingsolver. And Have the Men Had Enough is quite radicalising in a controlled Margaret Forster way.
I rarely read 'good' novels anymore, just find them a bit tiring.
I read crime fiction for the most part. Ann Cleeves is great, and I love the Vera books.
Any Barbara Kingsolver is certainly a good bet: Poisonwood is great but I loved Prodigal Summer possibly even more, and Flight Behaviour is great too.
Have you read Kate Atkinson? Behind the Scene at the Museum/Human Croquet etc rather than the Jackson Brodie's (although I like them too)
Geraldine Brooks Year of Wonders is a great one at the moment: about the experience of a village during the plague, and with a particular focus on the women's experiences. It was written before the pandemic but is interesting reading at the mo.
I've also enjoyed the recent of classical rewrites - Silence of the Girls and Circe are excellent and female centred (Song of Achilles is also stupendous, and good on masculinity!)
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