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Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

Ever-mindful of the gender imbalance on my reading list, I decided it was high time for a feminist writer to teach me some shit. My next selection was Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

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The first edition of Mrs Dalloway was published in 1925 by Hogarth Press… which was founded, owned and operated by Virginia Woolf and her husband. That’s one way to get published, I suppose!

Woolf was reportedly inspired by reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, though she wasn’t a fan of his notoriously unreadable tome. Writing Mrs Dalloway was really Woolf’s way of saying “Look, mate, here’s how you do it right!”. She mirrors the format of Ulysses, with both books taking place over the course of a single day, but in this case it’s a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an aging Pommy socialite.

Having read the two introductions to Mrs Dalloway (two! plus a foreword!), going in I knew I could safely assume that (1) Virginia Woolf was brilliant, (2) Virginia Woolf was bonkers, and (3) this was going to be a really heavy read.

And holy smokes – “heavy” might not be the right word, but it sure was something. I felt like a ping-pong ball bouncing around the inside of Woolf’s skull. It’s a “stream of consciousness” suitable for white water rafting. Woolf has us saying hello to a childhood frien-NOPE, we’re admiring a tree-NO WAIT, we’re reminiscing about a past lov-HANG ON, we’re buying flowers… on and on it goes.

I had no idea what the fuck was happening, not for a single moment. I re-read every sentence three times, and still couldn’t follow it at all. What I did manage to absorb I can summarise here in the form of a few Mrs Dalloway Fast Facts:

  • Mrs D is throwing a party
  • She feels old
  • She likes reading memoirs
  • She’s maybe a little bit queer…

That’s it.

There’s some peripheral guy she walks by in the park, Septimus. He’s shell shocked out the wazoo and it’s making his foreign wife miserable. He decides he loves life but hates doctors, so he throws himself out the window. Not a great end, all told. Septimus and Mrs D are the two primary characters, but they never actually meet – his suicide just features in the party gossip she hears later.

Yeah, it’s that kind of book – the kind that makes me feel extremely stupid. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was Missing The Point the whole time I was reading it. The closest analogy I can come up with is that it’s like watching an episode of Seinfeld, but harder: you keep waiting for there to be a point or a plot, but none materialises. There’s no literal interpretation, it’s just layer upon layer of metaphor until you’re buried so deep you can’t breathe.

And the best part is: according to the critiques I read online afterwards, Mrs Dalloway is a “much more accessible” version of Ulysses. So that’s the story of how Ulysses got demoted to the very bottom of my to-be-read list 😉

If I had to say what I got out Mrs Dalloway, it would probably boil down to the following: everyone is bonkers. You shouldn’t get married out of obligation. London is pretty. Women are brave to write letters without the help of a man. Teenaged daughters are annoying. Young women who wear party dresses that stop above the ankle will get called slutty behind their backs. Hosting a party is hard, especially when your girl crush shows up unexpectedly and the talk of the night is the shell-shocked veteran who topped himself. So, I guess, do with all of that what you will…

I would recommend Mrs Dalloway, wholeheartedly, to anyone who is far, far smarter than me.

You can read my review of Michael Cunningham’s 1991 adaptation of Mrs Dalloway, called The Hours, here.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Mrs Dalloway:

  • “This book was drier than a popcorn fart. What happened in it? It’s hard to say. A veteran killed himself and a bunch of stuffy old English people had a party. That’s the whole story in a nutshell…” – Harmony
  • “Self loathing non sense.” – Richard Gianelli
  • “Catcher In The Rye… as told by middle-aged English farts. The party! The party! Let us listen to an old farty woman stream her consciousness to us to hear, pointless thoughts that go nowhere. That’s pretty much this book in a nutshell. Very boring. Mrs Dalloway whines about not marrying Peter Clark, but Pete’s been in India for five years. I’m sure she would have been unhappy either way, marrying him or not, him leaving or not; all she does is party, chill with friends, and rinse & repeat. Ughhh.” – Allen

The Hours – Michael Cunningham

Did you know that Virginia Woolf’s working title for Mrs Dalloway was originally The Hours? And that’s where Michael Cunningham got the name for his 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which “recasts the classic story of Mrs Dalloway in a startling new light”.

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The Hours revolves around three generations of women living in different time periods and circumstances, each of whom has some kind of connection with Mrs Dalloway. There’s Virginia Woolf herself, in 1920s England. There’s also Laura, a Los Angeles housewife in the 1940s, who yearns to escape her life and wonders if she has the brilliance of the mind that produced Mrs Dalloway. And there’s Clarissa, in 1990s New York, whose brilliant best friend is dying of AIDS-related illness.

“Mrs Woolf”, “Mrs Brown”, and “Mrs Dalloway” (Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa, respectively) are all equally interesting, well-drawn, and complex. That’s unusual for a story with multiple protagonists, in my experience – usually, I find I’m more drawn to one over the others.

The story is told over the course of a single day, in the tradition of Mrs Dalloway – and, in that spirit, I read The Hours in a single sitting. It’s short enough to make that not-too-onerous an undertaking, and I reckon it’s the best way to do it, if you have the time and capacity.

The Hours parallels Mrs Dalloway in several other ways, too. There’s the stream-of-consciousness style, where the protagonists’ thoughts bounce around all willy-nilly, a very tricky literary technique that mirrors free association. There’s also the LGBTIQ+ themes, where each of the protagonists is some variety of queer. Cunningham quite neatly shows, across the successive generations, how queerness and queer relationships become less shameful and more open: from Virginia’s internal torment, to Laura’s clandestine kiss, to Clarissa’s long-term “out” partnership.

One other thing that’s important to note, if you’re considering picking up The Hours, is that Cunningham also explores mental illness, as a form of expression and a legitimate perspective on the world. That means some trigger warnings are necessary: The Hours opens with a scene of Woolf’s suicide in the prologue, and there are other instances of suicide, suicidal ideation, and depression throughout.

So, it’s kind of a bummer, but The Hours is still a good read – I enjoyed it more than the O.G. Mrs Dalloway (and, for sure, I understood a lot more of it!). It also made for a really good movie, starring Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep. I wondered whether Streep was specifically cast for the project, or whether she sought it out specially, because she’s evoked as a character in The Hours with a minor off-page role in the early chapters. She said, on the DVD commentary (remember DVD commentary? how quaint!), that a friend’s daughter sent her a copy of the book, thinking she’d get a kick out of it. It would seem that she did, and I did too.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Hours here:

  • “I cannot believe that this book won a Pulitzer Prize! It was so incredibly tedious and an orgiastic dive into depression. Main lining on melodrama! Tennessee Williams on steroids!” – Don McPheeters
  • “I’m not going to comment on it winning the Pulitzer. I don’t like a lot of the winners. Mostly because this is a puffed up university award given to literary favorites who stick around long enough.” – Los Angeles Swinger
  • “If you can get past the idea that life is futile, and if you like homosexuality, you’d probably like this book.” – Dale Lund
  • “Just cause you won a Pulitzer Prize don’t mean you can lay down heavy pipe in your old lady’s aqueduct for hours and hours without missing a beat. Respect yourself.” – Patrick Resing

My Ultimate Lock-Down Author Share-House

One of the things that’s been bringing me joy during, y’know, all of this is The To-Read List podcast. Today, I’m drawing inspiration from one of their episodes (which, in turn, was inspired by a Tweet from LitHub). The idea is to come up with a list of authors you’d want to be in lock-down with, or in quarantine with. You might love Virginia Woolf’s writing, but could you really stand living with her 24 hours-a-day for weeks on end? Ernest Hemingway might be brilliant, but what would it be like to share a bathroom with him? I put my thinking cap on and came up with my very own list (technically two, one for living authors a la The To Read List and one for dead authors a la LitHub): my ultimate lock-down author share-house.

Ultimate Lock-Down Author Share-House - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Important note: this isn’t about the authors whose work I love the most. I had to scratch a whole bunch of brilliant writers for various reasons: I’d be too nervous to talk in front of Helen Garner, I’d be too intimidated by Sally Rooney (and only a little bit sour that we’re the same age), I figured I’d be cheating if I chose Elena Ferrante so that I could be one of the select few who know her secret identity, and I’d be scared of distracting Carmen Maria Machado or Roxane Gay from writing their next book. This is about the authors I reckon I could live with for an extended period under share-house circumstances.

Living Author Lock-Down Share-House

First thing’s first: I’m going to want someone around who can make me laugh. Someone who can find the funny in the mundane, someone who can make fun without being cruel, someone who will regale me with entertaining anecdotes when the days get too long. I can’t think of anyone who fits the bill better than David Sedaris. Read my full review of his essay collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Next up: I’m going to need somebody who won’t judge me if cocktail hour comes early. No one likes to drink alone, and I’m no exception! I reckon Susan Orlean and I would make for brilliant drinking buddies (if her Twitter feed is anything to go by). Plus, we could discuss niche true crime to our heart’s content, even if the others got sick of us. Read my full review of her investigation into the Los Angeles Central Library fire, The Library Book.

I’d also want someone around who can teach me some stuff, and I reckon Colson Whitehead fits the bill. The guy didn’t get the MacArthur Genius Grant for nothing! He’s written about everything from history to Harlem to politics to poker. If we were in lock-down together, I’d struggle not to constantly pepper him with questions… Read my full review of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Obama-recommended book The Underground Railroad here.

It can’t all be work and no play, though. We’d need someone with some aesthetic sensibilities to brighten up the place – and maybe draw us, just for lols. That’s why I’d call Mira Jacob up to the plate. I never thought of myself as a graphic novel reader until I read Good Talk. I’d happily take all of her dish-washing and laundry duties if she captured our lock-down conversations in return. Read my full review of Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir, Good Talk, here.

Dead Author Lock-Down Share-House

Whenever something crappy happens in my life (and I reckon getting locked down in a share-house during a global pandemic would count), I hear Nora Ephron‘s voice in my head, saying: “Everything’s copy”. I reckon she’d be the queen of making the best of a bad situation, and she’d get us all working on collaborative creative projects to release once regular business resumed. Read my full review of Heartburn here.

And, it’s a combo deal: I’d love to have Anita Loos (sans her shit-head husband) in my author lock-down share-house, because I’m sure she and Nora would get along. Sure, I’d probably end up the odd-one-out, watching them write brilliant screenplays while I sipped my wine in the corner, but it’d be worth it to get them in the same room and watch the magic happen. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Speaking of entertainment: I reckon Anaïs Nin would be captivating. She was adventurous, generous, and by all accounts, fun! I mean, anyone willing to write gloriously literary smut on commission has got to be worth talking to. And, if we didn’t get along, I’d feel less guilty about sneaking into her room and reading her diary… (I mean, I’d never do that. Ahem. Probably.) Read my full review of Delta Of Venus here.

And, finally, I’d want George Eliot in the share-house, and I’d want to ask all manner of questions, about writing and politics and life… but the one that’s front-and-center in my mind at the moment is: have we been mis-gendering George all this time? This has come up as a result of the “Reclaim Her Name” project, for which Baileys (the major sponsors of the Women’s Prize) is re-publishing a collection of works they’ve determined were written by women under masculine pseudonyms, including Middlemarch. In the (inevitable) backlash that ensued, I came across a couple of accounts that suggest George might have adopted the name that more accurately reflected their identity, rather than purely bowing to the patriarchal constraints of the time for publishing writers. Essentially, I’d want George to have the opportunity to decide for themselves, with today’s sensibilities and understanding, how they wish to identify. And then I’d start digging for dirt, like the gossip-hound I am deep down, on all their high-falootin’ Victorian friends… Read my full review of Middlemarch here.

Who would you want in your lock-down author share-house? Living or dead, dream big! Let me know in the comments below.

10 Books with Bisexual Characters

We are in a golden age of queer books. Glance over the shelves and you can find characters who openly and explicitly identify as any kind of sexuality you can imagine. Oscar Wilde could never have dreamed… In my humble opinion, though, bisexual book characters could use just a smidge more of the spotlight. So, here’s a list of ten books with bisexual characters.

10 Books With Bisexual Characters - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Red, White & Royal Blue is “an effervescent queer romance” (according to Bi.Org), featuring a bisexual character front and center. Alex Claremont-Diaz is the son of a U.S. President, forced into a PR friendship with a British Prince after a disastrous diplomatic incident. Of course, sparks fly between the (former) enemies, and Alex’s burgeoning bisexuality emerges. Casey McQuiston writes brilliant books about bisexuality (having come out as bisexual themselves, they know the ropes), and this is by far their most popular. Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

Bonus: I’ve read more of Casey McQuiston’s books, and loved each of the bisexual characters more than the last! Check out my full review of I Kissed Shara Wheeler here, and my full review of One Last Stop here.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Of course, plenty of bisexual books were published before this hey-day was heralded or whatever. Mrs Dalloway might not be as openly bisexual as some of the other characters on this list, but no one who reads this book could be in any doubt as to her inclinations. Clarissa spends a lot of time in this novel thinking about the man she married, the man she could have married, and the woman with whom she shared a kiss – the “most exquisite moment of her whole life”. That’s very bi, wouldn’t you say? For more confirmation, see Virginia Woolf’s diaries where she wrote extensively of both her love for her husband Leonard and her passionate affair with Vita Sackville-West. Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

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They Both Die At The End seems, on its face, to be a bit of a bummer; it’s the story of two young men who receive a notification that they are going to die, and an app matches them to spend their final day together. And yet, it’s an oddly touching book, one that features bisexual characters at the forefront. One of the young men, Rufus, is openly bisexual from the start, and a queer romance blooms as the plot unfolds (sorry if that’s kind of a spoiler, but c’mon, it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?). And so, this novel with the depressing conceit becomes a beautiful expression of bisexual joy all the same – isn’t that nice?

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney has written the ultimate Messy Young White Bisexual novel in Conversations With Friends. Frances and Bobbi are exes, and performance poets, and friends. They meet a couple of grown-ups, Melissa and Nick, who are almost-happily married (it would seem). The situation quickly evolves into a love quadrangle, with Frances and Nick carrying on behind everyone’s backs while Bobbi pines after Melissa from afar. There’s men loving women, women loving women, men loving themselves, all over the shop. You might need a diagram to follow everything that’s going on in this one, but it’s worth it. Read my full review of Conversations With Friends here.

The Fiancee Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur

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It’s rare that you get a fun romance book with bisexual characters and absolutely zero handwringing about queerness. That’s what makes The Fiancee Farce so special (well, that, and the excellent Sapphic spice). It’s a marriage-of-convenience plot, featuring a bookstore owner and a book cover model-slash-publishing heiress. The chemistry and compatibility of the leads leaps off the page; Tansy and Gemma are characters you’ll fall in love with as they fall in love with each other. Most of all, it’s a blessed relief to read a book where queerness (bisexuality, specifically) isn’t othered at all, and the marriage of two women is handled exactly the way any other coupling would be. Read my full review of The Fiancee Farce here.

Acts Of Service by Lillian Fishman

Stories about heterosexual women exploring bi-curious desires are a dime a dozen, and Lillian Fishman flips the narrative on its head in Acts Of Service. Eve has a wonderful and adoring girlfriend, but she can’t help wondering whether she’s wasting her youth in a stable relationship. But being an impulsive mess, she doesn’t just dive headfirst into an affair; she gets caught up in a throuple, one that includes a man. Suddenly, she’s exploring a world of pleasure and hedonism that incorporates the last thing she ever expected – heterosexual sex. And yet, this remains one of the queerest novels of recent years, one that will make you question your instinctive understanding of sexuality.

The Rules Of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis

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When you pick up a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, you expect a lot of sex, drugs, and violence. The Rules Of Attraction doesn’t deliver so much on the latter, but two out of three ain’t bad! The story focuses mainly on three students at an affluent liberal arts university; they end up in a kind of wonky love triangle, but are each unreliable in their narration of it (as far as the reader is concerned). Paul Denton is the only openly bisexual character in this book, but all of the men are sleeping with men, curious about sleeping with men, or so high they don’t care about who they sleep with. This one’s more of a wild ride than an accurate reflection of real life for bisexual people, but that’s kind of Ellis’s schtick.

Green Dot by Madeleine Gray

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The blurb of Green Dot promises an “irresistible and messy love story… about the joys and indignities of coming into adulthood”. Hera is in her mid-20s, still living with her dad in Sydney and preemptively exhausted by the life of drudgery she expects to find in the workforce. Lacking any better options, she takes a job as an online comment moderator for a news publication and an older male colleague catches her eye. Having exhausted her options for bisexual drama for the minute, she plunges into a destructive workplace affair. She’s a character that will have you cringing and relating, all at once. Read my full review of Green Dot here.

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

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Okay, yes, Call Me By Your Name is problematic for a number of reasons that have been discussed to death in #BookTok circles – but the fact remains that it’s an insightful representation of burgeoning bisexuality in young men of a certain era. Elio is confused by his desires, excited by them, and seeking affirmation anywhere he can find it. His crush on the older house-guest Oliver is all-consuming, overwhelming, obsessive and single-minded in an almost-scary way. Elio projects everything onto him, as many of us do with our first love. So, yes, this one needs to be read critically, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the books with bisexual characters worth reading. Read my full review of Call Me By Your Name here.

P.S.: Even though this article – Call Me by Your Name: Not Pedophilia, Still Problematic – focuses more on the movie than the book, it’s still a really interesting read about the concerning power dynamics at play in this story.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ve saved The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo for last, because it’s not exactly marketed as a book with a bisexual character. I don’t love when a character’s sexuality, bi or otherwise, is used as a “big reveal”, but it makes sense in the context of this story. Evelyn is an aging movie star, finally ready to tell the world the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life – including a great forbidden love, which (spoiler, I guess?) was not one of her seven husbands. With enough old-school glitz to make it fun, and enough trauma to make it moving, it’s hardly a surprise that this one went on to become a best-seller dozens of times over.

Further reading: The website Bi.Org was an invaluable resource for me putting together this list, and looking for books with bisexual characters in general. I highly checking out their stuff if you want to read more!

20 Books About Angry Women

I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise that I love reading about women’s anger. Women who are raging, women who are pissed off, women who are fully unhinged – I love them, one and all! There’s something very cathartic about reading stories with angry women in them, seeing characters express that fury that quietly burns in so many of us. Here are twenty of my favourite books about angry women.

20 Books About Angry Women - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Carrie by Stephen King

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Is it sacrilegious to suggest some of the best books about angry women were written by men? Whatever the case, Carrie might not be perfect, but it sure is iconic. Stephen King’s debut novel follows the unpopular teenage daughter of a religious fanatic. The titular character is tormented and teased by her classmates, but unbeknownst to them, she is growing more and more powerful. She has the power to move things with her mind, and when a small kindness turns out to be a cruel joke, she uses that power to exact grotesque and horrifying revenge.

Fates And Furies by Lauren Groff

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Fates And Furies is one of the more literary books about angry women – and the angriest woman doesn’t even get her say until the second half of the novel. It’s a portrait of a marriage infinitely more complex and enraging than it first appears. Mathilde has been hiding many secrets from her husband Lotto, violent secrets and dark histories that cast everything we know about them and their marriage in a new light. This New York Times bestseller is intense and propulsive, confusing at times but always intriguing.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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There have been books about angry women for hundreds of years, but Gone Girl is the one that got the most cut-through in recent memory. Gillian Flynn got unreliable and unhinged girlies trending! Her anti-heroine, Amazing Amy, seems like your standard beautiful blonde girl gone missing at first glance – but as the pages turn, and you get to hear from the woman herself, you realise that the darkest and most malevolent kind of anger burns within her. Hot enough to have her destroy her own life, just to take her husband down with her. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

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No one writes books about angry women like Ottessa Moshfegh. If there was a poster child, she’d be it. Eileen was her break-out novel, the one that thrust her angry women protagonists into the best-seller lists – whether we like them or not. The titular character is consumed by loathing and resentment for the men she’s forced to “care for”: her alcoholic father, the boys in the prison where she works, the guard she stalks. She indulges in fantasies of escape. The arrival of a new counselor at her workplace promises a change… I don’t think it constitutes a “spoiler” to tell you it hardly ends with a happily-ever-after.

Bunny by Mona Awad

Bunny - Mona Awad - Keeping Up With The Penguins

What happens when a dark, introspective outsider gets invited into the inner sanctum of the beautiful and bright-eyed? You’ll find out in Bunny, a dark academia novel that will take you all the way down the rabbit hole. Samantha has been granted entry into a highly coveted MFA program at a New England university. At first, she resents the clique of Bunnies, the twee girls with saccharine smiles. But when she’s invited to one of their salons, she finds herself drawn into their world, one that is surely more sinister than it appears. It turns out the sweetest smiles can hide the darkest fantasies and blackest rage.

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

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How long can a woman endure the cruelties of men before she gets angry? Not that long, it turns out. Animal is “a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society”. This explosive and confronting book follows a woman, Joan, pushed to the brink by violence and abuse. She goes in search of answers about what’s happened to her and why, looking for the strength to finally fight back. Olivia Wilde called it “so insanely good and true and twisted it’ll make your teeth sweat”.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

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Some of the most powerful (geddit?) books about angry women are the ones where that rage manifests physically. Naomi Alderman’s The Power is a feminist dystopia – or utopia, depending on how you look at it. Teenage girls suddenly develop the power to deliver electric shocks through their skin. The boys and men who have overpowered them all their lives are suddenly at their mercy, and the shift has ramifications around the world. As older women develop the power too, some of them use it to exact revenge, some of them turn to religion, and still more try to hide and remain loyal to the status quo. All of them are angry, though, and that’s the best part. Read my full review of The Power here.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie - Courtney Summers - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When a woman is angry enough, she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. That’s what happens in Sadie, where a young woman seeks vengeance on the man who killed her sister. She’s pursued all the while by an intrepid podcaster, who thinks he’s going to crack the case of the missing and dead girls from a trailer park in the middle of nowhere. She outsmarts him, though – she outsmarts everyone who might stand in her way. That’s the kind of power that being angry can give a woman who’s been wronged. Read my full review of Sadie here.

How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

How To Kill Your Family - Bella Mackie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A funny book about murder? Yes, please! How To Kill Your Family is one of the most delightful (and therefore most emotionally confusing) books about angry women you’ll ever read. The hot pink cover belies the anti-heroine’s murderous intentions. Grace has lost everything, but she has a plan to get it all back. First, she’s going to kill her family. Then, she’s going to claim their fortune. And, once she’s gotten away with it all, she’s going to adopt a dog (what a relatable queen!). You can’t choose your family, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with them.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

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One of the original angry women in fiction – Bertha Mason, from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre – had to wait over a century to be paid her due and have her story told in her own terms. Wide Sargasso Sea reclaims and reimagines the life of the “mad woman in the attic”, Mr Rochester’s first wife before he met and manipulated the young and beguiling Jane. Who among us can say that, having been ripped from our homeland and horribly mistreated, we might not ourselves turn to arson and take back our freedom by force?

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

Whisper Network - Chandler Baker - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One of the many dark truths brought to life by the #MeToo movement was the existence of whisper networks: chains of women in workplaces, passing information to each other about men who might be unsafe, knowing they couldn’t speak any louder without retribution. It makes sense that this reality filtered through to fiction books about angry women, as we see in Whisper Network. The women who work for Ames at Truviv, Inc. have been protecting each other from him for years. Now that the world is finally waking up to the abuses of men in power, they have the strength to fight back – but it will come at a price.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The next generation of books about angry women is being written by kids who grew up reading The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen would’ve been happy to have never been angry; she just wanted enough food to feed her family, and a safe roof over all their heads (and maybe some sexy smooches with her hunting buddy Gale). Unfortunately, it’s not to be. She volunteers to take her sister’s place in a sadistic reality show run by her country’s elite, and stumbles into a war of the haves versus the have-nots. Read my full review of The Hunger Games here.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing - Eimear McBride - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Full to the brim with “scathing, furious, unforgettable prose”, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is a scary-good debut novel about a young woman who is, rightfully, very, very angry. The protagonist has grown up with the terror of her brother’s brain tumour, compounded in a house of denial and silence around trauma and abuse. The stream-of-consciousness style echoes feminist icons like Virginia Woolf, continuing their tradition of expressing rage on the page that cannot be contained. This examination of the angry woman’s psyche will live in your head rent-free after you’ve read it.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister The Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My Sister The Serial Killer gives you exactly what it says on the tin: the story of Korede and her sister, Ayoola, who has the unfortunate habit of killing her boyfriends. Korede is literally the person Ayoola calls to help her hide a body (c’mon, every angry woman has one). The plot boils over when a love triangle forms: Ayoola sets her sights on the handsome and charismatic doctor that Korede has loved from afar for months. Sibling loyalty can only go so far, after all. This forces Korede into the small gap between the proverbial rock and hard place: should she keep her angry sister’s secrets, or divulge them to the man she loves (possibly saving his life)? Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are some of the most beautiful and complex books about angry women you’ll ever read – and it all begins with the first book in the quartet, My Brilliant Friend. It tells Elena and Lila’s stories from the very beginning, as children growing up in a violent and turbulent neighbourhood of mid-20th century Naples. It’s enough to make any young woman angry, but Elena and Lila experience and express their rage in very different ways. Ferrante’s gorgeous Italian writing is translated into English by the inimitable Ann Goldstein. Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The Final Girl Support Group - Grady Hendrix - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Think back to every horror movie you’ve ever watched. After all the screaming and wailing and bloodshed and jump-scares, there’s usually one woman left standing, one who – through luck or skill – survived the horrors. That’s the final girl, and in The Final Girl Support Group, these survivors gather to share their experiences and help each other rebuild their lives. What these women have survived is enough to make anyone angry, but when someone starts targeting their group, their survival instinct is put into overdrive. No matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary - Sarah Penner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The angry woman at the heart of The Lost Apothecary has a very special set of skills, skills she has acquired over a very long career, skills that make her a nightmare for the abusive and violent men of 18th century London. Women come to her for help, and she sends them on their way with a well-disguised poison and a promise that it will solve all their problems. It all goes to hell, of course, when a young girl visits the apothecary and makes a mistake with fatal consequences. In present-day London, a woman is about to uncover the secret of the underground apothecary vigilante.

The Recovery Of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

The Recovery Of Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel - Keeping Up With The Penguins

These books about angry women might be fictional, but The Recovery Of Rose Gold hits very close to home. Stephanie Wrobel was undoubtedly inspired by the real-life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard: a young woman disabled by her mother’s Munchausen by proxy, who takes matters into her own hands. Of course, in the fictional version, the story takes some different turns and we’re granted a lot more access to the source and nature of the anti-heroine’s anger. But at its bones, it remains the same – a young woman turning the tables on her abuser. Read my full review of The Recovery Of Rose Gold here.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian - Han Kang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not all books about angry women have the loud kind of rage. There’s very little screaming or breaking of things in The Vegetarian, but the protagonist is undoubtedly consumed by her own quiet fury. Yeong-hye is an ordinary woman with an ordinary husband, who up-ends her life and the lives of those around her by deciding to commit to vegetarianism. It’s a compelling read, but also (at times) a horrifying one – but, ironically, it says very little about the philosophy or ethics of vegetarianism. Yeong-hye’s dietary habits are not the point, even if they are the motif on which this story hangs. Read my full review of The Vegetarian here.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Perhaps the scariest kind of rage is the kind that simmers quietly – silently, even. The Silent Patient is a mystery-thriller about the kind of anger that has no answers and no voice. Alicia’s life looked perfect from the outside: nice house, creative career, attentive husband… until, one day, she shot him in the head. Afterwards, she didn’t say a single word, in her own defense or otherwise. Theo is a forensic psychotherapist, and he’s convinced he’s the only person who can reach Alicia through the fog of her furious silence. Is it just a professional curiosity, or is there something more sinister that connects them? Read my full review of The Silent Patient here.

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