Since the first novel was ever published, men have been shown in books in all their glory with every part of their character examined and imagined. From Darcy to Fagin, every inch of the male psyche has been explored.
However until quite recently that didn’t always apply to women, who have often, through the great novels of history, been written as one dimension characters, and characters that often exist for the mere furthering of a male character. Even novels that have featured women heavily haven’t dared show them as much more than nurturing, perfect characters.
So today, we’re showing women in their imperfect, brilliant entirety with a list of novels featuring female protagonists with fully formed characters. Many of these books show that women aren’t always perfect, or nice and are often filled with unresolved issues and rage. Most are by women, but not all! Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
The Girls – Emma Cline
The Girls is an award winning debut released in 2017 and it was loved by reviewers across the board. The Girls is set in North California during the violent end of the 1960s At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader.
The Woman Who Walked into Doors – Roddy Doyle
Paula Spencer is a thirty-nine-year-old working-class woman struggling to reclaim her dignity after marriage to an abusive husband and a worsening drinking problem. She’s not perfect, but she’s also the most perfectly formed female character I’ve ever read, written by a male author.
Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse. Olive isn’t a perfect ideal of womanhood, but she is endearing and relatable.
My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
Korede’s sister Ayoola is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead, stabbed through the heart with Ayoola’s knife. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood (bleach, bleach, and more bleach), the best way to move a body (wrap it in sheets like a mummy), and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
The Power – Naomi Alderman
All over the world women and girls are discovering they have the power. With a flick of the fingers they can inflict terrible pain, and even death. And with this small twist of nature, everything changes drastically. Described as this generations ‘Handmaid’s Tale’, The Power explores a very different world.
Red Clocks – Leni Zumas
In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.
Good Enough – Jen Petro-Roy
Before she had an eating disorder, twelve-year-old Riley was many things: an aspiring artist, a runner, a sister, and a friend.
But now, from inside the inpatient treatment center where she’s receiving treatment for anorexia, it’s easy to forget all of that. Especially since under the influence of her eating disorder, Riley alienated her friends, abandoned her art, turned running into something harmful, and destroyed her family’s trust.