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On International Women’s Day, I can’t resist the chance to mention just a few of my favourite female writers.

I am not one of those women who only read books by women.  Nor am I someone who thinks that male writers can’t write as well about subjects that might be seen as preoccupying their female counterparts.  But I suppose, on reflection, I do tend to read more fiction by women – if my bookshelves and lists of books read on Good Reads are anything to go by.

So here goes.  Here is my highly subjective and entirely partial and narrow list of women writers for whom news of a new title (if they have the good fortune still to be alive) is a reason for celebration on my part and an anxious scouring of the library shelves for subsequent months.

Carol Shields:

I love everything that Carol Shields wrote in her sadly interrupted life.  If I have to pick a favourite, it is probably UNLESS, although immediately I have to claim LARRY’S PARTY in parallel.  Her characters are so …well, I feel I know them.  I can imagine their taste in clothes, in food, in holiday destinations.   I want to ring them up and invite them out for coffee, seek their opinions, share their lives.  And her writing achieves the seemingly impossible – clarity, simplicity, truth.

Anne Tyler:

Again, it’s her characters.  So ordinary, so normal – living lives like ours – error-strewn, earnestly endeavouring and not always quite achieving …

In Anne Tyler’s novels, nothing yet everything happens.  Births, betrayals, arrivals, departures and death – the great as well as the insignificant moments conveyed quietly, unpretentiously and – again – with truth.  A favourite?  Impossible to say – although THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, LADDER of YEARS, SAINT MAYBE and BREATHING  LESSONS tend to share the top spot.

Jane Gardam:

I have to pick her – for her humour, her acute observations, and – yes, again – the truth of her characters.  Again, I love every novel – but OLD FILTH comes most effortlessly and instantly to mind.

Margaret Forster, Anita Brookner,  Penelope Lively, Margaret Drabble, Linda Grant, Susan Hill, Ann Patchett, Alice Hoffman – more names I have to include as these are all writers whose books I constantly return to, re-read and always find something new to savour.  I am aware that my selected writers are  not exactly in their first flush of youth any more and that I have been reading them virtually all my adult life.  But that’s rather the point.  They are writers I have grown up with, admired, revered, loved and remain convinced of their unique qualities.  For me, they have endured.

Of course, casting back to 19th century women writers is also essential in this absurdly confined list.

George Eliot for me reigns supreme with MIDDLEMARCH the novel I have probably read more times than any other.  Naturally, Jane Austen is here too – and I find it hard to choose between MANSFIELD PARK and PERSUASION as a personal favourite – with EMMA chasing close on their heels.  And then Charlotte Bronte.  JANE EYRE was one of the first classic novels I ever read when we had to study it for English Literature ‘O’ level at school and I have always loved and admired it even after teaching it numerous times.

Strangely enough, when thinking of 19th century novels and women, it’s some of the heroines created by male writers that also come vividly to mind.  Who can forget poor Tess, headstrong Bathsheba Everdene and fiery Eustacia Vye?  Cruel yet compelling Estella, doomed, sad Nancy?

But no more of that.  It’s International Women’s Day, after all – and the men get their fair share of attention for the rest of the year to merit keeping them in the shadows today!

I am aware of a very woeful lack of ‘internationalism’ in my scant list – although it does drift several times over the Atlantic – but I can’t pretend to what I don’t know and haven’t read.

And I certainly welcome any suggestions to add to my constantly growing number of writers that I really need to read and have every intention of doing so  … one day.


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