Six women writers. Six unique voices. Plenty of reading to revisit and catch up on.
Readers are often guilty of expecting a “kind” of book from authors of a particular gender. Speculative social science fiction: male. Amoral protagonist with no comeuppance -male. Spare prose about fighting bulls in Spain- male . Lyrical love poetry- female. Three-generational family saga- female. Girl-meets-widowed-father-of-two-under-the-Tuscan-son: female
My Big Red Bag loves writers of all colour and plumage- from the fierce poetry of Emily Dickinson to the clever romances of Jane Austen to the austere essays of George Orwell. But it has a special place in it’s hearts for these authors below who challenge prevalent gender stereotypes with their unique and unexpected body of work.
1. Dorothy Parker- The Nation’s review of Ms Parker’s first book of verses said it best. Her writing is “caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity“. She holds a special place in our hearts for being one of the first ‘thoroughly modern women‘ who lived life on their own terms- with a winking sense of humour and a quiet understanding that the world was not quite ready for them. Her acerbic wit made her one of the leading intellectuals of her time- period, and not just the smartest woman in the room. Build us a time machine and the first thing we would do would be to zip back to the frolicking 40’s and share a drink with her. (We hear she was partial to champagne)
By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing.
And he vows his passion is,
Lady make note of this –
One of you is lying.
2. Ismat Chughtai- In this ongoing season of biopics, why has no one suggested a movie about her ? May we suggest that Vidya Balan play the young firebrand proto-feminist while the divine Ms Rekha acts as the artist in her autumnal years? A woman with a strong feminist view point, writing about previously taboo topics such as womens’ sexuality- of course only Gulzaar can pen the lyrics for the film. There is also the chance for some excellent wink-wink nudge-nudge cameos what with her later life spent as the part of film literati in Bombay. We are hoping she’s ripe for a re-disovery any way seeing as some claim that Dedh Ishqiya was a covert homage to her work.
Fun fact: did you know that Dev Anand’s first hit (Ziddi) was based on a short story by Ismat Chughtai and directed by her husband?
3. Lionel Shriver- In a society where women are conditioned to please, Ms. Shriver’s desire to provoke comes across as a breath of fresh air. Her heroines are intelligent and prickly (but not always likeable), and they are allowed to feel complicated ‘masculine’ emotions such as an unhindered ambition (Double Fault) or an ambiguity about parenthood (We Need to Talk About Kevin). Even the most flawed of her work challenges the reader to question societal norms in a way that few other writers can. An American-born-British-citizen she offers a unique perspective towards modern relationships , and her resistance towards a happy denouement makes her book ideal book-club fodder.
“Lovers communicate not inside sentences, but between them. Passion lurks within interstice. It is grouting rather than bricks.”
4. Margaret Atwood- Our love affair with Margaret Atwood began with the bizarre/insane Robber Bride (we identified with the protagonist so short she shopped in the kid’s sections of stores). By the time we were done with reading The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid’s Tale, we were full blown fan-girls. Margaret Atwood combines so many of our favourite things- speculative fiction set in imagined dystopias, prose so beautiful that you want to just close your eyes for a moment and let it sweep over you, feminism doled out without hectoring, and most of all, stories that you can’t wait to get to the end of. While she herself has resisted the urge to be labeled a “science fiction” writer (dismissing the entire genre as “talking squids in space”), she remains one of the most intelligent writers of the genre to date. And that’s just one of her specialities! She can also tell stunning period yarns, murder mysteries and psychological tales about childhood friendships!
“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.”
5. Jennifer Egan- Jennifer Egan challenges the assumption that ‘cleverness’ is a male bastion. Her books use all the postmodernist tropes (the digressions, the nested-dolls stories, the play with styles, the oblique references to pop culture) that other more venerated authors use, with none of the pretension or self consciousness. While A Visit From The Goon Squad is admittedly brilliant, we are partial to Look at Me – a book that tackles the beauty complex, women’s insecurities about ageing and disappearing, childhood memories AND complicated terrorism plots deftly without coming across as show-offy in the least!
“Rich children are always blond, Jocelyn goes. It has to do with vitamins.”
6. Patricia Highsmith- In her most famous creation Mr. Ripley, Patricia created a character so soulless and immoral that you can’t help but feel uncomfortable. The existential questions raised by her excellent Strangers on a Train have been adapted by writers and moviemakers across the world. There is something to be said about her unabashedly misanthropic view towards human motivations. Herself a noted curmudgeon who liked cats more than people (we are almost the same – except we don’t like cats), Ms. Highsmith wrote books that are the opposite of chick lit. We love them (and her).
“I know what they’d like, they’d like a blank they could fill in. A person already filled in disturbs them terribly.”