Whilst I enjoy diving into young adult novels with gleeful abandon when times are tough, occasionally I must remind myself that I am an adult, and as such should also be reading adult’s literature. Well-told stories, for children and adults alike, have power. They allow us to escape into other worlds and live someone else’s experiences, stimulating imagination and empathy. Complex, multifaceted, not necessarily likeable but ultimately sympathetic female characters are, for me, key to inspirational, transformative reading. Memorable characters can often accompany us in day-to-day life, providing a different-coloured lens with which to consider the world through. Here a few of my favourites that I hope will bring some colour to your life during this uncertain time.
Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman
Honeyman’s title character, Eleanor Oliphant, is a quirky woman who struggles with social skills and spends her life entirely alone. Her week is spent at a monotonous job, and her weekends are filled in with vodka and frozen pizza. Her life changes when she helps a co-worker rescue an elderly man, and through the development of a gradual friendship with both she begins to confront her past and heal her heart. Eleanor is weird, witty, courageous and refuses to pity herself. She makes a wonderfully unique and memorable heroine tackling the very relevant modern issue of loneliness. At times, sad and even heart wrenching but ultimately uplifting and empowering, this novel is packed with emotion. I finished it in two days and could not stop thinking about for the following month.
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
Part historical coming-of-age story, part environmental escapism, part murder mystery, this novel has it all. It follows Kya Clark who has survived alone in the marsh on the outskirts of town since her family abandoned her as a child. She is ridiculed and bullied by the town’s residents who call her the ‘Marsh Girl’, yet some show her kindness and generosity. Kya is resilient, resourceful, sensitive and highly intelligent. Her will to survive through seemingly unsurmountable hardships is a testament to the strength of her spirit. The book is beautifully written, and poetic scenes of the natural world feature prominently. The ending surprised yet satisfied me. An unusual and absorbing read.
My Brilliant Friend – Elana Ferrante
The first in a series of four novels, My Brilliant Friend is about the friendship between two girls growing up in a slum on the outskirts of Naples following World War 2. While Elena has a chance of escaping the harsh poverty and violence characteristic of her childhood existence through education, her friend Lila, whom she describes as more beautiful and intelligent, is condemned to work in her father’s shoe shop. The story follows the girls as they grow from children into young adults. Ferrante’s matter-of-fact, seemingly unpolished style creates a sense of authenticity and lucidity. Allegedly semi-autobiographical in nature, based off Ferrante’s hyperreal scrutiny of events and people. This has never been confirmed, with Ferrante herself shrouded in mystery and secrecy; only her publisher knows her true identity, keeping her private life firmly out of the public eye. Though often confronting, My Brilliant Friend feels intimate and real, moving and thought provoking. It’s a twisting, winding narrative about class, the distorting influence of patriarchy on creativity, and the intense complexities and joys of female friendships.
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart – Holly Ringland
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart revolves around Alice, a young girl who lives with her mother and violent, controlling father cut off from the world. At nine she is sent to live with her grandmother, who runs a flower farm. It is there, alongside the other abused women June has taken in, that Alice learns the ‘language’ of flowers and finds a gradual kind of peace. Years later, old secrets and a betrayal by someone close to her prompt Alice to flee from the farm and into the Australian desert to find the Sturt Desert Pea, a flower whose meaning has special significance for her. The novel spans 20 years, and accompanies Alice as she learns to live a life very different from what she once imagined. It is written with warmth and passion, a fierce and fiery exploration of courage, violence, sadness, hope and how we pick the stories that define us.
Portrait in Sepia – Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende is a brilliant author, whose novels have been translated into 35 languages and are read around the world. Translated from Spanish, Allende’s female characters are colourful, contradictory and complex. Her stories span generations and emphasise the issues of gender, patriarchy, class and identity. In her historical fiction, she writes of women whom history would claim never existed. Portrait in Sepia’is set in the 1800’s yet feels alarmingly similar to our modern age, and is a story of self-discovery, love and war. Aurora ‘Lai Ping’ de Valle is the main character and narrator, who at age five is taken in by her formidable and business-savvy grandmother. Aurora’s own journey is enriched exponentially by the many unusual women in it. Ranging from her maternal and paternal grandmothers, her Chilean suffragist tutor, and her warm-hearted, sex-obsessed, political-minded aunt, and the bachelorette family friend who travels the world as she pleases and lives on her own in Paris. Allende balances out gritty descriptions of conflict with beauty in a way that violence is incorporated and significant, but love and courage are more so. Bittersweet but uplifting, I adore Allende’s writing. Some of my other favourites include The Japanese Lover and The House of Spirits.
~ Ellenor Sibon