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15 Horror Books Written By Women

I’m always surprised – and a bit disheartened – to come across lists of recommended horror books, or glance along the horror shelf at a bookstore, and see it populated almost exclusively with books by men. Nothing wrong with books by men, of course – I read plenty of ’em myself – but there are so many women writers with the capacity to scare our pants off, it’s a shame they don’t get more of a look-in. So, as always, I’m determined to be part of the solution. Here’s my round-up of great horror books written by women.

15 Horror Books Written By Women - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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Most people who haven’t read Daphne du Maurier assume that she wrote fluffy mid-century romances. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rebecca is one of the most haunting Gothic horror novels – written by women or men, or anyone else! – from that era. The story follows a young naive woman, swept up in a marriage to an older wealthy widow. She moves into his mansion and finds it haunted, the specter of his late wife looming in every corner. But what really happened to Rebecca? Why does her housekeeper cling to her memory so tightly? Read my full review of Rebecca here.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Imagine you’re trapped in a holiday house with Lord Byron, he’s bored and he’s drinking and he suggests a game. Sounds like a horror story in and of itself, doesn’t it? That’s the situation Mary Shelley found herself in when she came up with the idea for Frankenstein, one of the most iconic horror books written by women – and the genesis of the science fiction genre. I recommend finding an edition with detailed biographical information about the author, because the more you learn about Shelley’s many personal tragedies, the richer this story of a monster rejected by his creator becomes. Read my full review of Frankenstein here.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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The scariest thing about horror books written by women is that they are often rooted in horrifying realities for many women, around the world and throughout time. Take The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – perhaps more of a story than a full-length book or novel, but terrifying all the same. It is styled as a series of journal entries by a woman prescribed “treatment” by her psychiatrist husband for her supposed ailments (“nervous depression” and “hysteria”). Confined to her room, isolated and forbidden from working, the narrator slowly descends into true madness, the “cure” proving worse than the disease.

Flowers In The Attic by VC Andrews

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Not every horror story has to be traditionally scary, in the jump-scare-throw-your-popcorn-in-the-air sense. Flowers In The Attic is technically a horror novel, but really, the scariest thing about it is the horrible writing – and the grip it had over teenage girls in the ’90s. This book went the old-timey version of viral, passed around playgrounds and under school desks. Young girls were intrigued by the story of teenage Cathy, locked in an attic by her mother with her siblings for years. That in itself is pretty twisted, but it gets worse: Cathy falls in love with her rapist… her brother. Ew! Read my full review of Flowers In The Attic here.

Lakewood by Megan Giddings

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Her career is only a few years old, but Megan Giddings has already produced some of the best horror books written by women in recent memory. Her debut, Lakewood, has a killer premise – one that particularly resonates in light of the failing health system in the U.S. The main character, a black millennial woman named Lena, is forced to drop out of college and find a way to cover her family’s astronomical medical debt. She thinks she’s found salvation in a research program testing new drugs and therapies, offering her body (and, it turns out, her mind) as a test subject. Of course, it also means a loss of privacy, great personal risk, and the penalties of a terrifying NDA… but if it saves her mother and gets her family out of debt, it’s worth it, right? Wrong. Read my full review of Lakewood here.

Bonus: read my review of Megan Giddings’ follow-up novel, The Women Could Fly, here.

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

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Millions of people around the world recoil when they see a copy of The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, having been traumatised by it in a high-school English class. The fact that teachers continue to assign this book – one of the most terrifying horror books written by women in the 20th century – to adolescent students is beyond me. Jackson had a unique talent for making the mundane – suburban streets, family homes, childish games – into something that will keep you up at night. Strangely, she was equally adept at eliciting a laugh – some compensation, I guess, for all that lost sleep.

Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice

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If you find yourself surprisingly… well, turned on by Interview With The Vampire, don’t worry. You’re not weird, and you’re definitely not the only one. Even though Anne Rice produced some of the best horror books written by women, she laced them with erotic and sensual subtext that has left readers both scared and stimulated for decades. (Proof is in the pudding: the film adaptation starred ’90s heartthrobs Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.) The story is related by Louis de Pointe du Lac, a vampire who tells the story of his life to a reporter. It’s a rich and sensual story, one that will remind you that sex and death are closely interwoven.

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

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Picnic At Hanging Rock is one of the best horror books written by women from Australia. In it, you can find the early seeds of dark academia and the lost girl aesthetic that has become so popular in certain circles of #Bookstagram. Set in 1900, the story follows a group of girls from Appleyard College for Young Ladies who take a picnic on St Valentine’s Day. A cloudless summer day in the outback might seem like a strange setting for a horror novel, but as anyone who’s experienced one will tell you: the idea of three young girls going missing in that setting will make your stomach drop. That’s exactly what happens in Lindsay’s tale – and, best of all, the ambiguous ending will leave you haunted.

Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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Her Body And Other Parties is a collection of short stories, a kind of genre stew with hints of science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, horror and more. So, maybe it doesn’t belong completely on a list of horror books written by women – but it’s my list, and the horror bits are so good, I say it counts! As much as the stories vary, they make sense next to each other, forming a complete and cohesive collection that somehow leaves you (selfishly) wanting more. The stories aren’t linked by character or plot or even style, but they all address similar themes: sex, death, queerness, vulnerability, women, and their bodies (as the title might suggest). Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

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Entertainment Weekly called Baby Teeth (among other things) “We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Gone Girl meets The Omen” – can you imagine anything scarier? There are so many levels to this story, it’s hard to know where to begin. Seven-year-old Hanna looks to all the world like a sweet young girl, a real Daddy’s Girl who can do no wrong in her father’s eyes. But Suzette, her mother, sees a different side – one far more frightening, and one that could pose a real threat to their family. Horror books written by women often explore the terrifying dark side of domesticity, a nexus that male writers have historically overlooked (not all, of course, blah blah blah) – and this is one of the finest examples.

You by Caroline Kepnes

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The Netflix adaptation of Caroline Kepnes’s debut novel You has become a widely-beloved and much-discussed blockbuster – but for fans of spooky reads, the original book is well-worth checking out. This is one of the horror books written by women that speaks directly to our contemporary concerns around privacy and patriarchy. Joe Goldberg, the main character, works in a bookstore and sets his sights on a beautiful customer. All he has to do is Google her name, and he finds enough information to ingratiate himself in her life. He becomes her lover, her defender, and he’ll do anything to prevent their “happy” lives together from being disturbed. Anything – even murder.

The Natural Way Of Things by Charlotte Wood

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The scariest horror books written by women often cross over in a Venn diagram with feminist dystopias. Take The Natural Way Of Things, a novel by Stella Prize-winning Australian writer Charlotte Wood. A group of young women are held – drugged, and dressed in rags – in a stark compound hidden deep in the Australian outback. Some of them vaguely recognise one another, but nothing clearly links them – until painful events from their pasts emerge, and it becomes all too clear why they’ve been isolated together. They’re being held for a reason, by people more powerful than you could imagine. What hope do they have of getting out?

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian

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Remember when Cat Person went viral? A seemingly quiet piece in The New Yorker was suddenly everywhere, trending on Twitter and causing arguments in hetero relationships around the world., Kristen Roupenian managed to blow a spark into a flame, how we perceive and navigate relationships between men and women in a post-#MeToo world. That story is included among others by Roupenian in You Know You Want This. Like the story that captured global attention, this collection is one of the horror books written by women that doesn’t offer jump-scares or loud squeals, but quiet creeping terror that seeps into the realities of our everyday lives. This is one of the sharpest and most surprising interrogations of sex and power you’ll find on your shelves.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

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Hurricane Season is a murder mystery (of sorts) based on true events that happened in Fernanda Melchor’s hometown. I’ve got to tell you: this is a HEAVY read, more horror than whodunnit. Trigger warnings for literally everything you can imagine. It has these beautiful long lyrical sentences that lure you in, but the visceral, carnal, brutal nature of the events it depicts are not for the faint of heart. It all begins when a group of children discover a decomposing body in a canal, that of the local Witch, and the story unfolds through the perspectives of bystanders, accomplices, and (of course) the perpetrators… Read my full review of Hurricane Season here.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

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Fans of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman who haven’t read any of her later work might be surprised to see Earthlings on a list of horror books written by women. Murata’s protagonists are kooky, sure, and she leans towards the dark and eccentric – but is that enough to constitute “horror”? Trust me, you need to read this one to see what I mean. Natsuki is pretending to be normal, living a quiet life in an asexual marriage, hoping that she can someday succumb to the pressure to be truly “normal”. Unfortunately, the horrors of her childhood won’t be quieted so easily. This one takes twists and turns you will never see coming. Read my full review of Earthlings here.

10 Books Set In Ireland

Ireland: birthplace of Oscar Wilde, home of Guinness, lush land of no snakes and green shamrocks. While travel is still out of reach for some of us (by some of us, I mean me), there are plenty of books on our shelves that can take us to our dream destinations – and, for me, that’s the Emerald Isle. Here are ten books set in Ireland for a budget-friendly escape.

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Milkman by Anna Burns

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Milkman is set in an “unnamed city” – but for anyone who’s paying the slightest bit of attention, it’s obviously Belfast. That’s where Anna Burns herself was raised, and her experiences of the turbulent times of the Troubles inform this intense psychological novel. It’s a story about gossip, silence, violence, and consequences. With this book, Burns actually became the first-ever writer from Northern Ireland to win the Booker Prize, with the judges commending it as “an exploration of the universal experience of societies in crisis.” Read my full review of Milkman here.

Ulysses by James Joyce

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Ulysses has a bit of a reputation – being notoriously difficult to read, for one thing – but if you can grit your teeth (and find a helpful guide to scaffold your reading), it’s well worth it. The story follows Joyce’s self-insert character, Leopold Bloom, and his friends and lovers over the course of a single day of misadventures in Dublin. The book is so beloved as part of the Irish canon that communities celebrate “Bloomsday” on 16 June each year, the anniversary of the day that Joyce depicts. (It was also the day of Joyce’s first date with his wife, so that’s surely worth a pint.) Read my full review of Ulysses here.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney is a bit of a millennial wunderkid – “the Salinger of the Snapchat generation”. All of her books are (at least partially) set in Ireland, but the most iconic is definitely Normal People. The story begins in a fictionalised small Irish town in County Sligo, where Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house. What follows between the two teenagers is a lifelong push-pull of will-they-won’t-they frenemies-to-lovers-back-to-frenemies-then-maybe-lovers-again. The plot follows them to Dublin and Trinity College (where Rooney herself, naturally, studied) and back again. I’m sure there will be “Normal People tours” of those areas in the future – if there aren’t already. Read my full review of Normal People here.

Bonus: Read my full review of Sally Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations With Friends, here.

You Have To Make Your Own Fun Around Here by Frances Macken

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You know that old saying, “you can’t choose your family”? Well, sometimes you don’t get to choose your friends, either. That’s definitely the case for Katie, who grows up in the small (fictional) Irish town of Glenbruff in You Have To Make Your Own Fun Around Here. She has no choice but to become friends with the glamorous troublemaker Evelyn, and the wet blanket Maeve. They dream of escaping their small-town life someday, but in the meantime (as the title suggests) they have to make their own fun – and a city girl is coming to shake things up. This is a fantastic exploration of female friendship and coming-of-age against the backdrop of ’90s in the Emerald Isle. Read my full review of You Have To Make Your Own Fun Around Here here.

The Likeness by Tana French

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Tana French is the reigning queen of detective books set in Ireland. The Likeness is the second book in her Dublin Murder Squad series, and it’s severely underrated. The concept is just ridiculous enough to work. Cassie Maddox is drawn back into the Dublin Murder Squad to investigate the murder of her doppelganger, a young university student who looks eerily like her. What’s more, it turns out the victim was living under an alias Maddox had used for a previous investigation. Obviously, she has no choice but to go back undercover, this time posing as the dead girl, to see if any of her Dublin housemates will reveal themselves to be the murderer. Isn’t that bonkers? Isn’t it amazing?

Amongst Women by John McGahern

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Amongst Women is a slim little unassuming tome, and John McGahern is far from a household name, but this is one of the best books set in Ireland interrogating the impact of the country’s internal conflict on families and domestic life. The patriarch character, Michael Moran, is an IRA veteran, a former officer and guerrilla fighter in the War Of Independence and the Irish Civil War of the 1920s. Lacking any other outlet for his frustration, he exorcises his demons on those closest to him. His wife and daughters gather at the family home in Ireland’s rural midlands, hoping to lift Moran’s spirits lest his most recent bout of depression kill him, but it’s far from a happy reunion. Read my full review of Amongst Women here.

Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

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Okay, so technically Instructions For A Heatwave begins in London – but the Riordan family has tended carefully to their Irish roots, and the story drags them back there. Plus, Maggie O’Farrell is a widely beloved Northern Irish author, so I say it counts as one of the best books set in Ireland. Everyone in the Riordan family is hiding a secret: they miss home, their marriages are breaking down, their step-kids hate them, they can’t read… and all of those secrets come to a head when the patriarch of the family disappears. This is a fascinating novel of simmering resentments and emotional claustrophobia, a rich family drama that feels very Irish. Read my full review of Instructions For A Heatwave here.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

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Eimear McBride draws on a rich tradition for books set in Ireland, stream-of-consciousness writing to explore the depths of trauma and psychology (see Ulysses above), in her debut novel A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing. The rambling story explores a young Irish girl’s family relationships – pushed to the breaking point by her brother’s brain tumour – and her struggle to accept her own sexuality. The New York Times called this book a future classic (among many other complimentary things), and McBride won the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction for her efforts.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

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Love true crime? Love books-within-books? Looking for books set in Ireland that will get your heart pumping? You need to read The Nothing Man. The title is a moniker given to a serial killer who assaulted and murdered people in their Cork homes. They called him that because the Gardaí had “nothing” on him. Nowadays, though, he goes by Jim, and he’s a faceless security guard at a grocery store. Jim’s about to get the opportunity to relive his criminal hey-day though, because a true crime book has just come out about him – an I’ll Be Gone In The Dark-esque memoir by his only known survivor. Read my full review of The Nothing Man here.

Bonus: Check out more of the thriller books by Irish authors I recommend here.

The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes

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In 2008, the Celtic Tiger – a period of foreign investment in Ireland that lead to a major property bubble burst – devastated some Irish families while richly rewarding others. That’s the backdrop for The Wild Laughter, a novel by “one of Ireland’s most audacious, nuanced and insightful young writers”. The Black brothers are living on either side of a chasm, with their beloved father dancing along a delicate tightrope between them. This is a “snapshot of a family and a nation suddenly unmoored”, named Book Of The Year in 2020 by the Irish Times, the Irish Sunday Times, the Irish Independent, AND the Sunday Independent. That might make it one of the most-endorsed books set in Ireland in living memory!

What Is Auto-Fiction?

Don’t you love a good literary buzz-word? The one that most recently caught my attention is auto-fiction, plastered across the reviews of many high-falootin’ literary new releases. Which, naturally, led me to wonder: what is auto-fiction? If you’re wondering too, I’ve got some answers.

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My initial misconception(s) about auto-fiction

Let’s kick off with a confession: for a long time, I had no idea what auto-fiction was.

In fact, the first time I heard the phrase “auto-fiction”, I just kind of guessed/assumed it was something like automatic writing, the semi-spiritual practice of writing without thinking. (It has a long history of being used as “proof” of psychic phenomena, but nowadays it’s mostly used as a technique for getting over writer’s block.)

Then I heard it used about a book (I can’t remember which one, possibly The Argonauts) where that definition didn’t really make sense.

I finally copped to the idea that I’d need to Google “what is auto-fiction”, and here’s what I found.

What is auto-fiction?

According to Wikipedia: “Autofiction combines two mutually inconsistent narrative forms, namely autobiography and fiction.”

That really clears things up, doesn’t it?

Different types of auto-fiction

Of course, there’s no straight-forward way of defining auto-fiction. It turns out there’s a few different types.

Autobiografiction is the most commonly recognised and widely understood form of autofiction. An author takes events from their own lives, and fictionalises them in some way. They might be altered slightly from what “really” happened, or happen to characters rather than to the author themselves. You know that feeling when you pick up a debut novel and realise it’s only a very, very thinly veiled version of what happened to the writer in their own lives? Well, this version of autofiction is one small step beyond that.

There’s also faction, which seems to me a more shady version of autofiction, where the author seems to use fictional elements almost in the hopes that the reader won’t even notice, and take the “facts” of their story as read. Indeed, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is cited as one of the early examples – his creative license was applied l-i-b-e-r-a-l-l-y in his retelling of the Clutter murders.

Let’s not even start on fake memoirs, I-novels, non-fiction novels… we’ll be here all day!

Writers use their real lives and stories for inspiration all the time (as Nora Ephron famously said, “everything’s copy”), but auto-fiction makes it explicit. They’re actually telling you that their auto-fiction books are at least somewhat true.

Basically, auto-fiction encompasses books that purposefully blend “real” stories with invented ones, in such a way that the reader is (usually) aware that it’s happening, even if it’s not always clear which specific parts are “real” and which are invented.

What makes a book auto-fiction?

Well, it depends who you ask.

Beyond incorporating “real” events, some critics and writers have specific (and, in my view, overly nit-picky) rules like: “Main characters in auto-fiction must have the same name as the author”, or that it must be a series (as opposed to a stand-alone book), it must not include any genre elements (so no crime or fantasy or romance tropes), it must be lyrical, it must be intimate…

I think we can all agree – even just from an etymology standpoint – that auto-fiction must include autobiographical elements and fictional elements. Anything else is up for debate.

Why is auto-fiction so popular all of a sudden?

It’s not, really. It’s just that it’s become a popular term to describe books that would have otherwise been shelved as either “fiction” or “memoir” without fuss.

Hywel Dwix, for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, explains:

“Although researchers have approached this question in different ways, many agree that autofiction is a form of writing that responds to the specific cultural conditions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including the relationship between celebrity and everyday life, a variety of scandals and controversies, and forms of public confession.”

Hywel Dwix (Autofiction)

Is auto-fiction a genre, then?

Brooke Warner wrote a brilliant article for Publisher’s Weekly, where she said (among other interesting things):

“The term autofiction serves a purpose when it is applied in its original meaning—to describe a novel that draws from real life—but autofiction is not and has never been a genre. You will not find autofiction as a category on Amazon… The problem today is that the term is showing up more and more as a way to qualify what’s ‘true’.”

Brooke Warner (Autofiction: What It Is And What It Isn’t)

To me, it’s like the difference between saying a book is “scary” (description) and a book is “a horror novel” (genre). It’d be weird if we started categorising books as simply “scary”, because there are subjective interpretations of that description and many, many shades of grey. “Horror”, on the other hand, has been established as a specific genre that’s broadly recognisable, with some fuzzy bits on the edges. So, a book might be “auto-fiction” (description), but we’d need to know more about it to classify its genre.

Examples of auto-fiction

If you’re like me, you know a question like “what is auto-fiction” is best answered with examples. Here are some of the most popular auto-fiction books, some of which you might already be familiar with (which helps).

  • My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgård (a series of epic novels that describe the Norwegian author’s life, translated into English by Don Bartlett)
  • The Outline trilogy by Rachel Cusk (three novels by the British writer with an external, rather than internal, focus)
  • I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (it’s tough to describe this one in a pithy sentence…)
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (an epistolary auto-fiction novel styled as a letter from the Vietnamese-American poet to his mother)
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (which won the Booker Prize in 2020)
  • The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (a young-adult novel that was drawn largely from Alexie’s own life – read my full review of The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian here)

So, as you can see, auto-fiction is as complicated or as simple as you want to make it – and we’re not likely to stop wondering or arguing about how it’s defined any time soon. The good news is, there’s a broad selection of books to choose from if you want to start reading auto-fiction, and chances are you already have (without necessarily knowing it).

20 Books To Read For Women’s History Month

March is the annual declared month to highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It’s a broad remit, which is why there are so many options of books to read for Women’s History Month. From world leaders and household names to quiet achievers and relative unknowns, so much of our world and culture has been shaped by the contributions of women – check them out.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

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Michelle Obama made history as the first ever black First Lady of the United States of America (related, obviously, to her husband Barack becoming the first black President). In Becoming, she describes her life up to and including her time in the White House. Now, of course, the market for White House memoirs is well and truly saturated, but there’s something special about this autobiography. It sold 725,000 copies on the first day of release, and 1.4 million in its first week. And people didn’t stop clambering for this story, even after the initial buzz died down. If you haven’t already, this is one of the imperative books to read for Women’s History Month. Read my full review of Becoming here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

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For a while there, the name Brock Turner featured in every headline around the world. The woman he assaulted was simply known as “Jane Doe” or “his victim” (or, worse, barely mentioned at all). Chanel Miller changed the game when she published Know My Name, her account of the crime Turner perpetrated against her, and the trauma she experienced in reporting and prosecuting it. It occurred to me as I read her memoir that this was the first time I’d ever encountered such a detailed explanation of what actually happens when a victim-survivor reports sexual violence. If you’re looking for #MeToo-era books to read for Women’s History Month, this is an excellent choice. Read my full review of Know My Name here.

Bonus recommendation: you must read She Said for an account of the investigative journalists that brought Harvey Weinstein’s crimes to light. Read my full review of She Said here.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

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Putting a man on the moon was one of the defining events of 20th century history – but, until Margot Lee Shetterly wrote Hidden Figures, very little was known (if anything at all) about the (mostly black) women who made it happen. This book explains the role that these “human computers” played in the space race and getting Apollo 11 to launch. This is a phenomenal true story that speaks to broader issues of segregation, racism, and the changing roles of women after WWII. Read my full review of Hidden Figures here.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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If you’re rolling your eyes at the idea that Little Women is one of THE books to read for Women’s History Month, stop right now! For too long, Louisa May Alcott’s best-known work has been roundly dismissed as sentimental guff, “moral stories for girls”. The fact is, it’s a masterpiece of subversion written by a true feminist before her time. Alcott was backed into a corner, writing whatever would sell to support her family (including her layabout father). She wasn’t one to go down to the patriarchy without a fight, however, and so she found ways to sneak her feminist agenda into her story about the March sisters. Get yourself a copy with a well-rounded and informative introduction to properly contextualise this classic before you write it off. Read my full review of Little Women here.

The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

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Anne Frank was thirteen years old, cloistered in a tiny attic hiding from the Gestapo with her family, when she began keeping a diary. She detailed her day-to-day life, her thoughts and dreams for the future, with no idea that it would one day – long after her family’s location was betrayed and she was sent to a concentration camp, where she later died – be read by millions around the world. It’s now considered one of the definitive Holocaust texts, as well as a heart-wrenching and eye-opening read. With the resurgence of fascist ideologies of late, The Diary Of A Young Girl is sadly one of the timeliest books to read for Women’s History Month.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

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Jack The Ripper is one of the most famous – and infamous – unidentified serial killers in history. In the autumn of 1888, he terrorised the streets of Whitechapel, and over a century later we’re still obsessed by his crimes (see: the new book released every few years that claims to have definitively identified the man behind the moniker). His victims have been variously described as servants, charwomen, “prostitutes”, alcoholics, and beggars. Alarmingly few true crime hobbyists even know the names of these women, let alone the true stories of their lives before they met the man who killed them. Hallie Rubenhold set out to fill this awful gap in the archive in The Five. This is undoubtedly one of most important true crime books to read for Women’s History Month.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Honestly, it’s hard to believe that science fiction became such a male-dominated genre for so long, when the first ever sci-fi book was written by a woman who was bored at Lord Byron’s party. Yep, that’s right, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein – the book that began it all – when rain dampened the party’s spirits, and Byron challenged everyone to write the scariest story they could imagine. It’s all the more impressive when you delve into Shelley’s history: a teenager swept away by an older man, devastated by loss, and constantly under threat of debt and illness. She poured all of that trauma into this story of a monster made by man, who simply wants what we all want – love and respect (and revenge on our enemies). Read my full review of Frankenstein here.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

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Henrietta Lacks is one of those names that really everyone should know – but almost no one does. Or, at least, no one did, prior to the 2010 publication of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks. Until then, she was mostly known as “HeLa”, the name given to her cancer cells which were used to used to create the first ever “immortal” human tissue grown in culture. That means the title of this book isn’t metaphorical: Henrietta’s cells are still alive, trillions of them and growing, in laboratories all around the world. The poor, black, Southern tobacco farmer from whom they were unethically sourced should be a household name, which is why this is one of the books you should read for Women’s History Month. Read my full review of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks here.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

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If you’re looking for history-making books to read for Women’s History Month, you should try Girl, Woman, Other. In 2019, this book made Bernardine Evaristo the first-ever Black woman to win the Booker Prize (though, it unfortunately must be said, that win was marred by controversy being shared, contrary to Booker Prize rules, with Margaret Atwood for The Testaments). Even aside from its history-making aspect, though, it’s a cracking read about twelve characters (“mostly women, mostly black”) who are interconnected by various relationships and connections. Read my full review of Girl, Woman, Other here.

Bonus recommendation: With Milkman, Anna Burns became the first Northern Irish writer to win the Booker Prize in 2018. Read my full review of Milkman here.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

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What if Hillary had never married Bill? That’s the tantalising question at the heart of Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld’s alternative history of one of America’s most recognisable and politically powerful couples. The story begins the way it did in real life, with Hillary an activist and ‘promising young woman’ attending Yale Law School. But instead of relenting to Bill’s barrage of proposals, Sittenfeld’s fictional Hillary rejects his offers of marriage and leaves him, forging a public (and private) life of her own. If you’re still flummoxed by the result of the 2016 Presidential election, this is one of the books you must read for Women’s History Month.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

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I know the Netflix adaptation has been controversial (to say the least), but Blonde is still definitely worth reading – in fact, it’s one of my top books to read for Women’s History Month. There was definitely a lot lost in translation to the screen, namely Oates’s careful scrutiny of the causes of Marilyn Monroe’s trauma and the way we exploit and objectify women in the public eye. The book has far less sexy sensationalism, and more putting the onus on the reader to interrogate their role and perspective. This is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary and heart-breaking reality – be sure to check the trigger warnings before you dive in.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Okay, it’s probably a bit redundant to include I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in a list of books to read for Women’s History Month – I mean, isn’t it obvious? Doesn’t everyone know about this book? Just in case there’s one or two hold-outs out there: this is Maya Angelou’s iconic 1969 autobiography, describing her youth and upbringing. It depicts a radical transformation, from a nervous young girl subjected to racism and abuse to a self-possessed young woman with hope and determination. Read my full review of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings here.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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If you’re looking for more true crime books to read for Women’s History Month (or, at least, books based on real crimes), Alias Grace is worth checking out. In this 1996 novel, Atwood offers her interpretation of the real life and crimes of Grace Marks. She and another servant in the same household, James McDermott, were tried and convicted of the 1843 murders of the householder Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (slash secret lover) Nancy Montgomery. McDermott was sentenced to death and hanged, while Marks’s death sentence was commuted. Was she actually guilty, or was she wrongfully imprisoned? Atwood has her own theories… Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

Victoria by Julia Baird

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For better or worse, Queen Victoria is one of the most significant female figures in political history – which surely makes Victoria, Julia Baird’s fascinating and meticulously-researched biography of Britain’s revolutionary monarch, one of the most important books to read for Women’s History Month. Even though royal biographies are a dime a dozen, this one is something special. Baird accessed previously unpublished papers and spent years researching every minute detail to bring this vivid portrait of the politically powerful Queen to life. It’s particularly impressive the parallels she finds in Queen V’s life to women’s struggles today: balancing work and family, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, and finding an identity.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

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Pride And Prejudice is undoubtedly a classic of English literature, one of the most important novels written by a writer of any gender. But, if you’re anything like me, reading it (and contemporaneous books) leaves you wondering: what about all the hidden figures in the story, the unnamed servants and household staff who wash the sheets our heroines sleep in, clean the clothes they wear, and cook the food they eat? These domestic supports were usually women, after all, and they surely had stories that deserve just as much time in the spotlight. That’s the philosophy underlying Longbourn, Jo Baker’s re-telling of Austen’s classic romance, redirecting the reader to what happens behind the scene.

Bonus recommendation: of course, the experience of reading Longbourn is enhanced if you’re familiar with the original text. Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

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It wouldn’t be a list of books to read for Women’s History Month if we didn’t have at least one or two of the foundational texts of second-wave feminism. Yes, many of them have been totally superseded, but how can we get where we’re going if we don’t know where we’re coming from? Simone de Beauvoir was an early 20th century existentialist who advanced feminist philosophy through her fiction and non-fiction. The Second Sex was her truly groundbreaking book, though, one that informed and inspired a generation on the path to gender equality. You know it must be good because it was banned by the Vatican(!).

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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When it comes to books to read for Women’s History Month, you can’t skip the world’s best-selling woman! Agatha Christie sold over 300 million books during her lifetime, and at the time of her passing she was the best-selling novelist in history – but that was only the beginning! According to no lesser authority than the Guinness Book Of World Records, Christie is still the best-selling fiction writer of all time, with over two billion books sold in more than 100 languages. I highly recommend And Then There Were None for first-timers, a locked-room mystery with ten strangers stranded on a remote island, murdered one-by-one. Read my full review of And Then There Were None here.

The Girls by Emma Cline

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Most of us think of the ’60s as a time of free love and hippie head garlands, but they were also a time of major social upheaval. Gender roles were evolving rapidly, but men still dominated in many areas. In The Girls, Emma Cline reimagines that world and that time, with a focus on the ways in which women’s relationships with each other – as opposed to their relationships with men – informed the way they moved in the world. Drawing on the crimes of the Manson family as her inspiration, this story is like a modern-day fable with startling psychological and sociological insight.

She Speaks by Yvette Cooper (ed.)

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She Speaks is a collection of forty women’s speeches that changed the course of history. UK Labour MP Yvette Cooper curated this selection, and in her blurb she wrote: “Looking at lists of the greatest speeches of all time, you might think that powerful oratory is the preserve of men. But the truth is very different – countless brave and bold women have used their voices to inspire change, transform lives, and radically alter history.” My favourites include speeches by Sojourner Truth, Marie Colvin, Julia Gillard, Kavita Krishnan, Michelle Obama, and Jacinda Ardern. Read my full review of She Speaks here.

Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

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And finally, here’s one of the books to read for Women’s History Month at any age: Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls. This children’s book offers 100 beautifully illustrated stories about extraordinary women who changed the world. Each biography is told fairytale-style, but with fewer Prince Charmings and more The Princess Rescued Her Own Damn Self. The diverse contents list includes Amelia Earhart (aviator), Frida Kahlo (painter), Malala Yousafzai (activist), Julia Child (chef), Marie Curie (scientist), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Supreme Court Justice), and more. Parents and caregivers will get just as much out of this amazing collection as the kids!

10 Novels That Take Place In A Single Day

It’s mostly subconscious, but I think we kind of expect the length of a story’s timeline to reflect its format. A short story, for instance, would normally take place over a short period – minutes or hours or days. It would feel weird for a short story to stretch over a century, wouldn’t it? But there are novels that defy this expectation, novels that take place in a single day. Here’s a list of these convention-busters.

10 Novels That Take Place In A Single Day - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You’ll have my gratitude for much longer than a day if you make a purchase through an affiliate link on this page, and send a small commission my way!

Ulysses by James Joyce

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Let’s begin with one of the definitive modernist novels that take place in a single day. Ulysses begins at at 8AM on 16 June 1904, and follows the protagonist Leopold Bloom (and some of his friends) across the course of the day in Dublin. It’s not exactly linear, skipping back and forth a few times, but what else would you expect for such a long and famously complicated novel? Some parts are really fragmented and disjointed, and not all of Joyce’s language experiments make for fun reading – but I promise you, it’s not the nightmare reading experience you’re expecting. It wasn’t for me when I finally got around to it, anyway! Read my full review of Ulysses here.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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Of course, we can’t talk about Ulysses without talking about another one of the definitive modernist novels that takes place in a single day: Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf wasn’t a fan of Joyce’s work, so she decided to write her own version, and show him how it should be done. Her story follows two main characters, the upper-crusty party thrower Mrs Dalloway and the shell-shocked veteran Septimus Smith. It starts with Mrs D deciding she will buy the flowers herself, and ends with her hearing about Septimus’s suicide at the party that evening. Like a lot of Woolf’s work (and life), it’s not an easy or uplifting read, but it’s considered one of the classic feminist texts for a reason. Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

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I’m noticing a theme: a lot of novels that take place in a single day are real bummers. A Single Man is another great example. The titular man George is “single” because he was secretly, unofficially widowed when his ‘life companion’ Jim passed away. George is despondent, bereaved, mourning a lover he couldn’t publicly declare (remember, back in the day, even being “out” wasn’t being out). And yet, Isherwood writes in such a cool and dispassionate way that George’s bitterness and misanthropy comes across as hilarious and matter-of-fact. This heart-wrenching novel reads beautifully and quickly, with a surprisingly contemporary sensibility. Read my full review of A Single Man here.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

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The timeline of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is a little murky, but it still counts as one of the novels that take place in a single day (in my opinion, and it’s my list, so there). The confusion comes about for a few reasons. First, a LOT happens in this novel – it’s an action-packed day for bounty hunter Rick Deckard, to say the least. Second, later editions of the novel have shifted dates around. Originally, the book was set in 1992, but later editions have updated that year to 2021, and there’s a movie set in 2049, and… Publishers and script-writers have tried really hard to make it feel like the story is set in the “future” which (obviously) shifts. Whichever edition you get your hands on, though, it’s still worth a read!

They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

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They Both Die At The End takes place over the course of a single day – and it’s a day we would all dread if we were living in the world of this story. At midnight on September 5, Mateo and Rufus both get horrible news. It’s the day they’re going to die. (It’s hardly a shock – I mean, look at that title!) They both decide to use an app that matches up people who receive that notification on the same day – that’s how they find each other, and how this short-lived friendship begins. They join forces for one final adventure, and attempt to live a lifelong friendship in a single day. It’s an inventive premise, and heart-breaking as all heck.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

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The Dinner isn’t just one of the novels that takes place in a single day – it’s one of the (very few) novels that takes place in a single meal. On a summer’s night in The Netherlands, two couples meet at a restaurant for dinner. Nothing particularly compelling about that, is there? Wait until you hear the reason they’ve come together: their fifteen-year-old sons are implicated in a horrific crime, and the resulting police investigation has torn apart their refined suburban lives. Over the course of this novel, the facades of polite company are stripped away and both couples are forced to confront what they must do to protect their children.

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

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If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things is one of the most – sorry in advance – remarkable novels that take place in a single day. It’s a true slice of life, examining the lives of residents on a quiet street in suburban England. There’s the single father with scars on his hands, the hungover youths back from a night of partying, the man caught in the grip of unrequited love… all of them have hopes, fears, desires, and demons that McGregor brings into focus in turn. They’re brought together by a single event, one that shatters the tranquility of their street and upends their ordinary everyday troubles.

Party Going by Henry Green

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I think we all know by now that if you take a handful of privileged, beautiful people and put them in a confined space, you’re going to get some good drama. It’s a formula that’s worked for reality TV for years, and before that, Henry Green used it as the premise for one of his novels that takes place in a single day, Party Going. Max, Amabel, Angela, Julia, Evelyn, and Claire all gather at a train station en route to a house party in France. They find that all the trains are delayed due to severe fog, so they take rooms in the adjacent railway hotel (rather than linger on the platform with the unwashed masses). That’s about all of the action, really; the rest of the story plays out in their relationships and gossiping, and Green tells different versions of it simultaneously. Read my full review of Party Going here.

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

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I love a good literary adaptation, and New Boy is a brilliant one from the Hogarth Press series (not to mention it’s one of the most interesting novels that takes place in a single day). Tracy Chevalier takes the harrowing story of Shakespeare’s Othello and places it in the most terrifying setting you can imagine: a child’s playground. Osei Kokote is the new kid at school (again), and he knows he needs to find an ally quickly. Enter Dee, the popular girl with a golden shine. But the other kids aren’t happy about the new budding friendship, and a powerful drama about racism, bullying, and betrayal begins.

Like Mother by Cassandra Austin

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Is it possible to be too tired to remember where you put your infant daughter down to sleep? If the stories I hear of new parenthood are true, abso-freakin’-lootly. That’s the disturbing premise of Like Mother, a domestic noir novel set in small-town Australia in 1969. Over the course of a single day in the life of sleep-deprived Louise, it interrogates the role of women in the world and in the home, and how far the apple really falls from the tree. This book made me so impatient, I just wanted to shake it and scream “what is happening?!”, right up until the final chapter. Read my full review of Like Mother here.

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