Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Search results: "ottessa moshfegh" (page 3 of 6)

Willful Creatures – Aimee Bender

Willful Creatures is yet another book I picked up after I heard about it on The To Read List Podcast. I’m worried I’m starting to sound like an obsessed fangirl – I swear I’m not (much). Their book recommendations are just really good, and Willful Creatures is no exception.

Willful Creatures - Aimee Bender - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get Willful Creatures here.
(If you’re willing to use an affiliate link, like this one, I’ll earn a small commission.)

Willful Creatures is a collection of fifteen short stories, divided into three parts. The stories are kind-of magical realism, kind-of fantasy, kind-of absurdist – if that makes sense. The New York Times review described the stories as “alternat[ing] between absurd scenarios imbued with recognizable human pathos, and apparently ordinary tales pitched at an oblique angle that reveals their true strangeness”.

The stories are also dark – not like horror or gritty thrillers, but like disturbing lucid dreams. Many of Bender’s creatures are not just willful, but downright malicious. The cruelty of Debbieland will leave you feeling depleted in the way only great stories can.

Some of the stories (like Off) give strong Ottessa Moshfegh vibes, others are closer to Carmen Maria Machado – two authors I truly love, so it’s no surprise that this collection drew me in. Fruit and Words is particularly spectacular, a real stand-out in a great collection. Dearth is another one worth mentioning, it really fucked me up – like a particularly twisted tuber version of Groundhog Day (have I mentioned that some of these stories are absurd?).

Bender uses the bizarre and surreal – a boy with keys where his fingers should be, a family with pumpkins for heads dealing with the arrival of a son with an iron for a head instead, miniature humans kept as pets – to talk about the human condition. The allegories are never too obvious though, she never beats you over the head with it. How she manages to make fabulist stories about imaginary creatures subtle is beyond me, but Bender pulls it off.

Willful Creatures is a short, punchy collection that I read in a single night – though it lingered with me for much, much longer than that. If you like your stories weird and dripping with pathos, you must add it to your to-read shelf immediately.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Willful Creatures:

  • “Aimee Bender is weird, and I love her for it.” – Nathaniel Lee
  • “Sometimes she sucks and sometimes she is amazing and sometimes she is inbetween, this is one of the latter, but even her inbetweens are better than other people’s bests.” – Christy Leigh Stewart

11 Automatic-Buy Authors

We all have favourite authors – even those of us who don’t read that much or that widely (no shame!). There are certain writers who just capture us, heart and soul, and we pore over every word they’ve written. We call them “automatic buy authors”. Automatic buy authors are the literary equivalent of ride-or-die friends. Here are eleven of mine…

11 Automatic Buy Authors - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you choose to automatic buy anything through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll earn a small commission.

Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sayaka Murata has been one of my automatic buy authors since I first read Convenience Store Woman. If I found out she was writing the copy on the back of shampoo bottles, I’d buy them in bulk. She writes taboo-breaking horror, scarily sharp social commentary, and she takes the “sex and death” thing to a whole new level. It’s a shame that comparatively few of her titles have been translated from the original Japanese into English. Ginny Tapley Takemori has done a fantastic job on the three that are available in anglophone markets, though! In addition to the novella Convenience Store Woman, the novel Earthlings is chilling and confronting, and Life Ceremony is a short story collection that will knock your socks off.

Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

Read my full review of Earthlings here.

Read my full review of Life Ceremony here.

Elena Ferrante

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

My love affair with the world’s most famous living pseudonymous author began, as most do, with My Brilliant Friend. That’s the first in her series of Neapolitan novels, four books that follow the lives of two girls from Naples into adulthood. By the time I sat down with the final novel in the quartet, The Story Of The Lost Child, I felt like I was sitting down to have goodbye drinks with a friend leaving town in the morning. Thankfully, Ferrante has a healthy backlist that I can turn to next, and new novels coming out semi-frequently – the most recent being The Lying Life Of Adults in 2019. They are all translated beautifully into English from the original Italian by Ann Goldstein.

Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.

Read my full review of The Story Of A New Name here.

Read my full review of Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay here.

Read my full review of The Story Of The Lost Child here.

Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body And Other Parties - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I first encountered Carmen Maria Machado through the Sydney Writers’ Festival podcast (specifically through her lecture – which seems to have mysteriously disappeared from the internet, otherwise I’d link to it directly – about Law & Order: SVU). She is completely beguiling, scarily smart, and almost-embarrassingly frank. It’s rare that a short story collection comes along that completely changes the game, even rarer when the author manages to back it up with a memoir that does the same thing – and yet, that’s exactly what Machado has done with Her Body And Other Parties and In The Dream House, respectively. Put simply, Machado’s writing will break your brain in the best possible way.

Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.

Read my full review of In The Dream House here.

Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

To be honest, Ottessa Moshfegh needs to be one of your automatic buy authors, if for no other reason than you need to be across what everyone else is gossiping about! She’s one of the most polarising young American writers in the game, as divisive as her unreliable and unlikable protagonists. Her books run the gamut of everything that could possibly be triggering: anxiety, eating disorders, sexual assault (Eileen); depression, self-harm, terrorism (My Year Of Rest And Relaxation); animal cruelty, sadism, and cannibalism (Lapvona)… what’s not to love? Ha!

Read my full review of Lapvona here.

Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing - Patrick Radden Keefe - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Patrick Radden Keefe is uniquely talented at exploring underbellies, exposing more of stories we think we “already know”. Reckon you’re across the worst of the Troubles? You need to read Say Nothing. Think you understand the origins and complexities of America’s opioid crisis? Pick up Empire Of Pain. It was a particular pleasure to read a collection of his long-form journalism lately, Rogues, which was like getting to read twelve bite-sized versions of his book in a delicious tasting platter of unsavoury characters. The man is one of the essential automatic buy authors for fans of literary true crime.

Read my full review of Say Nothing here.

Read my full review of Empire Of Pain here.

Read my full review of Rogues here.

Casey McQuiston

Red White And Royal Blue - Casey McQuiston - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s one of my automatic buy authors that’s a bit more fun! Casey McQuiston writes delightful young adult and new adult romances, with fun twists and kooky casts. They’re exactly what you want to take to the beach, or curl up with after you’ve read some traumatising shit. McQuiston burst onto the scene with Red, White & Royal Blue, a what-if romance between a fictional Prince Of Wales and First Son of the United States. It was an instant best-seller and a #bookstagram darling for years! They’ve since followed up with two more zany romances, One Last Stop and I Kissed Shara Wheeler.

Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

Read my full review of One Last Stop here.

Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ll admit, most of Karen Joy Fowler’s back-list doesn’t excite me that much, but the stuff she’s written most recently has made her one of my automatic buy authors for anything new. Maybe it’s a case of practice makes perfect? I fell in love with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – I think it’s the book I’ve recommended to readers more than any other – and then thoroughly enjoyed Booth. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next, and hey, maybe I’ll dip into her back-list after all to tide me over.

Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

Read my full review of Booth here.

Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor - Grady Hendrix - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ll admit, Grady Hendrix became one of my automatic buy authors before I’d even read a single word he’d written. I just love the concepts and designs of his books so much! They’re true collector’s items. Horrorstor is basically a ghost story set in a haunted IKEA store, and the novel is designed to look like one of their iconic catalogues. My Best Friend’s Exorcism looks just like one of the pulpy horror VHS tapes you might’ve rented from Blockbuster back in the early ’90s, and hits all the right notes for a teen horror satire. The list goes on and on; I can’t rest ’til I collect ’em all!

Read my full review of Horrorstor here.

Read my full review of My Best Friend’s Exorcism here.

Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you haven’t read one of Celeste Ng’s novels – or at least seen one of the screen adaptations – you’re really missing out. As soon as you do, she’ll be one of your automatic buy authors, too. Her stories are intense, complex, and superbly crafted. She examines race, gender, motherhood, suburbia, oppression, depression, and more through highly readable dramas that will have you gripped. Both Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere have topped best-seller lists and won awards around the world. Plus, they both have Reese Witherspoon’s tick of approval.

Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.

Read my full review of Little Fires Everywhere here.

David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris - Keeping Up With The Penguins

All of these automatic buy authors are wonderful, but not one of them can make me laugh like David Sedaris. His memoirs – each and every one of them – have me howling with laughter. Plus, I get to enjoy them twice: once in paperback, and again via audiobook (narrated by Sedaris himself). Of course, my very favourite is Me Talk Pretty One Day, a collection of essays about Sedaris’s North Carolina childhood juxtaposed against his migration to France as an adult. But, at the end of the day, they’re all brilliant. I’m forcing myself to consume them slowly, just one or two a year, and guarding fiercely against the temptation to gobble them down all at once like a greedy little goblin.

Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.

Read my full review of Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim here.

Read my full review of Calypso here.

Read my full review of When You Are Engulfed In Flames here.

Catherine Ryan Howard

56 Days - Catherine Ryan Howard - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Catherine Ryan Howard is one of the newest additions to my list of automatic buy authors, but hoo boy, she earned it! Her 2021 novel, 56 Days, was the first of her’s I read, and the first book I read set during the COVID-19 pandemic. It really knocked my socks off! Luckily, I already had another one of her books – The Nothing Man, which sounds even better – on my to-read shelf, and I’m currently on a mission to hunt down the rest of her back-list. Plus, she’s releasing new books at a pretty good clip, about one a year, so I’ll be hitting that “buy now” button pretty frequently.

Read my full review of 56 Days here.

Read my full review of The Nothing Man here.

9 Book Endings That Will Make You Say WTF?!

Surely we’ve all experienced this at one time or another: we turn the final page of a book, put it down, take a deep breath, and say to ourselves “what the FUCK?!”. (Okay, maybe some of us censor the profanity, but the sentiment remains the same.) It can be a good “wtf?!”, a bad “wtf?!”, or a pure confused “wtf?!”, but whichever way it goes it will stick in your mind for days. Here are nine book endings that will make you say WTF?! (And, I can’t believe I actually have to say this, but this list contains spoilers – it is literally about WTF book endings, what the fuck did you think it was going to be?)

9 Book Endings That Will Make You Say WTF - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
WTF are affiliate links? They’re on this page, if you click on them and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission. No great mystery!

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Jodi Picoult really takes us on a rollercoaster in My Sister’s Keeper. It starts out with a hum-dinger of a moral dilemma: a thirteen-year-old girl, who was conceived as a genetically matched donor for her sister, sues her parents for medical emancipation. She wants the right to refuse to donate a kidney – which means her terminally-ill sister will surely die. That’s all well and good, and we follow all the ups and downs, but once Anna is finally granted the right to control her body by the judge… she dies in a car crash? Like, immediately after the trial? On the way to the hospital to visit her sister, as if it wasn’t melodramatic enough already! But don’t worry, she’s ‘only’ brain dead, so she ends up donating the kidney anyway. Bring up the ending with anyone who’s read this book and you’ll be treated to a twenty-minute long explanation, culminating in WTF?! (And don’t even mention the movie…) Read my full review of My Sister’s Keeper here.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Well, in fairness, the first few pages of American Psycho will make you say WTF?! But if you can make it all the way through to the end, you’ll be WTF-ing even harder. It might seem like your standard Yuppie greed novel at first, but soon the narrator – investment banker and titular psycho Patrick Bateman – starts describing his violent impulses and how he acts upon them. His violence escalates, and he rapes and murders his way across New York, culminating in a voicemail to his lawyer where he confesses his many, many crimes. Only the next time he sees his lawyer, the guy just laughs? Figures it’s all a joke? Says Bateman is too big a coward to actually do any of that? WTF?! Readers are still arguing today over what that means. Read my full review of American Psycho here.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A contemporary reader will likely come to The Grapes Of Wrath expecting a somewhat uplifting ending. Joke’s on them! It starts with the Joad family, down on their luck, leaving their own farmhouse and migrate to California where they can (fingers crossed) get decent jobs fruit picking to keep the wolves from the door. Their journey across the Dust Bowl is plagued with misfortunes: deaths, overcrowded migrant camps, and family members absconding left and right. You’d think that Steinbeck would have their luck change at some point, point towards a happy ending at least, but NOPE! Things just get worse and worse, until Rosasharn (whose baby was stillborn) ends up breastfeeding a starving man and boy in an abandoned barn during a biblical flood. What – and I cannot emphasise this enough – the fuck? Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation has one of those sneaks-up-on-you book endings that will make you say WTF?! You know from the outset that the unnamed narrator’s year bombed out of her mind on sketchily-obtained sleeping pills is beginning in late 2000. In New York. That’s fine… but then the months go by, and her friend gets a job in the World Trade Center, and the clues accumulate. Soon, you’re faced with the reality that, yep, the narrator is about to wake up at the exact moment that the whole world gets one hell of a wake-up call. Does her year, with its dramatic end, change her at all? Does the loss of her friend make her rue the days she was rude and mean, and pledge to treat those in her life better? NOPE! Moshfegh really said “fuck redemption” with her whole chest, and left us all out here saying… wait, wtf?!

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

The Sanatorium - Sarah Pearse - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Le Sommet is a former abandoned asylum, recently remodelled as a minimalised five-star hotel for winter wilderness getaways. That’s where Detective Elin Warner finds herself celebrating her estranged brother’s engagement. But, of course, girls go missing, dead bodies show up, and Elin’s spidey senses tingle. After chasing a whole bunch of red herrings, she discovers that the hotel’s owner’s sister was the psycho killer, and the hotel owner’s sister helpfully gives a big exposition-y speech to explain why she did what she did, and how. That’s The Sanatorium done and dusted, right? You’d think so, except the Epilogue is told from the perspective of someone else – who? no one knows! – who was actually stalking Elin all along. WTF?! Read my full review of The Sanatorium here.

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice And Men - John Steinbeck - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Yep, Steinbeck really was the master of endings that will make you say WTF?! That’s why he’s on this list twice. Of Mice And Men should be a short, sweet novel about two men trying to make their way in the world, despite the odds being stacked against them. Instead, it’s a brutal interrogation of sacrifice, structural oppression, misfortune, and malady in under 30,000 words. Lennie – literally the only truly sympathetic character in the whole debacle, who lives with an intellectual disability – murders multiple animals, and a woman, all by accident. Then his bestie, George, shoots him in the back of the head while promising him that everything’s going to be okay. Like, seriously, Steinbeck needed therapy. Read my full review of Of Mice And Men here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I acknowledge that Gone Girl might be kind of an obvious choice for book endings that will make you say WTF?! Plus, if you’re reading it for the first time today, you probably won’t be quite as shocked by the Big Twist Reveal(s). But put it into context, folks: back when it was released, back in 2012, this shit knocked everyone for six. You spend the first half of the book all but convinced that Nick is the stereotypical lying scumbag husband who bumped off his wife when their marriage got rocky… only to be hit with a brick when it turns out his wife is a true savage psychopath. Then there’s the ending, where she has sneakily held onto his sperm and used it to impregnate herself so he can never dob her in for her crimes? I mean… whaaaaaaaaat the fuck? Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

One Day by David Nicholls

One Day - David Nicholls - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I can’t be the only one who picked up One Day thinking it was your standard rom-com with a fun hook (that the story is told through a series of vignettes, the same day in every year for two decades of their lives). I mean, surely they go through ups and downs and then overcome obstacles to end up together, right? Nope! Much like My Sister’s Keeper earlier, there’s a sudden and shock death that rips the heroine from the hero’s clutches. After all of that, the struggles and the close-but-no-cigars, after we got all emotionally invested, Nicholls ends with a sad bloke climbing a mountain and remembering the first time he kissed his now-dead true love goodbye. That’s basically a hate crime. WTF?!

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Well, maybe Alias Grace isn’t one of those book endings that will make you say WTF?! as much as it is one of those book endings that will make you say “where the heck did THAT come from?”. Atwood fictionalises the story 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 Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (slash secret lover) Nancy Montgomery. All of that it is for real, and while fascinating, fairly standard. Only, right towards the end, Atwood twists the story so that Grace Marks was the victim of some kind of possession? The evil spirit of a former friend took her over, and that’s how the murders happened. Um, wtf?! Then it’s back to reality (whoop!), Marks is pardoned, and she starts a new life in New York. Baffling! Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

Odd Hours – Ania Bas

Odd Hours - Ania Bas - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Odd Hours here
(affiliate link)

There’s been no shortage of quirky protagonists in recent years, but Gosia in Odd Hours is a different breed. She’s like the Polish love-child of an Ottessa Moshfegh character and a Fredrik Backman character, with a little of a Gail Honeyman character thrown in.

If you’re intrigued, you’re not alone – I was, too. That’s why I was so happy that Welbeck (via Allen & Unwin) sent me a copy of Odd Hours for review.

Gosia has “problems with intimacy” (to put it politely). She’s sneaky and self-defeating, not to mention a borderline stalker, but she’s also strangely endearing and fascinating to read about. I wouldn’t want to live with her (she reads her housemate’s diary, and takes passive aggression to new extremes) but she makes for a really compelling character.

In Odd Hours, Gosia works her way through a series of odd jobs, lousy dates, and family dramas. Each chapter begins with a description of the setting – a chain supermarket, a council library, a dated family kitchen – which gives it the vibe of a play and frames the scene to come. Her problems gradually cross-pollute and multiply until it all comes crashing down around her.

The dark, wry humour keeps Odd Hours entertaining, rather than wearisome, but it’s far from a light-hearted rom-com. It lives up to the blurb’s promise of “a razor-sharp social comedy about human connection”. The plot builds to an unconventionally happy ending that will delight odd ducks everywhere.

Buy Odd Hours on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

15 Dark Women’s Stories

The London Book Fair is finally back, and The Guardian helpfully distilled their showcases into a list of book trends we should be on the look-out for over the next couple of years. One in particular caught my eye: dark women’s stories. The Guardian said: “Among many of the big deals announced at the fair were a number of novels about women in dark and desperate situations, perhaps reflecting current discussions about women’s health and safety.”

Even though I don’t love the descriptor (why are they “women’s stories”? won’t people who aren’t women read them?), I looked over my shelves and found a bunch of titles that fit the bill. So, if you don’t want to wait for the showcased titles at LBF to trickle out, here are 15 dark women’s stories to tide you over.

15 Dark Women's Stories - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
(I won’t keep you in the dark: if you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission.)

Adèle by Leïla Slimani

Adele - Leila Slimani - Keeping Up With The Penguins

On the face of it, Adèle sounds more like one of an adolescent boy’s wet dreams than one of the dark women’s stories that fascinate readers – but glances can be deceiving. The narrator is a sex addict. She lives in Paris, she has an adoring husband, a healthy kid, and a satisfying job as a respected journalist. Her addiction threatens to ruin it all. Adèle is a Moshfegh-esque protagonist, one whose single-minded desire and self-interest will undoubtedly turn off a lot of readers. She’s effectively delusional, and she (almost) sucks the reader under with her. Read my full review of Adèle here.

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

The Dressmaker - Rosalie Ham - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Dressmaker is set in a (fictional) Australian country town in the 1950s, so everyone has names like “Gertrude” and “Muriel”. The protagonist (Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage) returns to her hometown to take care of her ailing mother – who is more than a little cracked, it must be said. That might sound like the premise of a great rom-com, but instead, Ham’s debut novel is one of the darkest women’s stories to come out of Australia in the early 2000s. Yes, Tilly finds herself falling in love with a hometown boy, but there’s a very dark twist to that affair you won’t see coming. Read my full review of The Dressmaker here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Gone Girl came on the crest of the wave of psychological thrillers with unreliable female narrators, and it sold over two million copies in the first year following its release. As a result, it’s become one of the most iconic dark women’s stories in living memory, synonymous with both dime-a-dozen female revenge fantasies and subversion of the typical “plot twists” we see so often in this kind of novel. Every character – from the married couple to the childhood friends to the greasy lawyer – exists in a murky grey area. There are no heroes and no villains (basically, everyone sucks here), and yet it’s a compelling read. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body And Other Parties - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If it’s dark women’s stories you’re after, Her Body And Other Parties has them in abundance. This game-changing short story collection ricochets from magical realism to horror to science fiction to comedy to fantasy to epistolary, so fast that the genres and tropes are pureed together into a deliciously heinous pulp. It all starts with The Husband Stitch, Machado’s take on the classic spooky story of the Green Ribbon; women’s stories don’t get much darker than a narrator losing her head because of her husband’s selfish greed. And – believe it or not – the stories only get better, more twisted, from there. Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.

Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman - Anna Burns - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The unnamed narrator of the Booker Prize-winning novel Milkman has a remarkably blasé approach to telling one of the best dark women’s stories to come out of Northern Ireland. As per the blurb: “In this unnamed city, to be interesting is to be dangerous… [Milkman is] a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.” The narrator is being stalked by a paramilitary honcho she calls “the milkman”, and his pursuit of her increases in intensity over the course of the novel, to the point where it becomes life-threatening. Read my full review of Milkman here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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

As much as we all love to read dark women’s stories with a bit of mystery and intrigue, sometimes it’s nice to read one with the premise laid out completely in the title. 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. The stakes ramp up when Ayoola sets her sights on the doctor that Korede has been crushing on for months. Korede is literally the person Ayoola calls to help her drag a body across the floor, but sibling loyalty can only go so far. Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room - Emma Donoghue - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Few real life crimes have captured and horrified the world like the Fritzl case. Elisabeth Fritzl had been abused by her father since age 11; after she attempted to escape, he lured her into the basement of their family home and knocked her unconscious, and so began her twenty-four-year imprisonment. The story sparked an idea in Emma Donoghue, and her fictional book Room – in which a young woman kept imprisoned by a man who beats and rapes her, raising a child in the most horrifying of circumstances – is the result. In a remarkable step forward for dark women’s stories, though, Donoghue’s story doesn’t focus on the captor but on his victims, and their journey to “freedom”. Read my full review of Room here.

She Came To Stay by Simone de Beauvoir

She Came To Stay - Simone de Beauvoir - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dark women’s stories are hardly a recent phenomenon. If we look hard enough at the classics, we’ll find plenty of them – like feminist icon Simone de Beuavoir’s She Came To Stay. It’s a fictional account of her and Jean-Paul Sartre’s relationship with Olga Kosakievicz (to whom the book is dedicated). This will hardly come as a shock, but it turns out de Beauvoir had some hard feelings about the 17-year-old who “came between” her and Sartre, the love of her life, and in many ways this novel is her act of revenge. The proof is in this dark, twisted pudding. Read my full review of She Came To Stay here.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian - Han Kang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.” Isn’t that just… *chef’s kiss*? It’s an opening line that promises a brilliant, twisted story to come. The Vegetarian is “a beautiful, unsettling novel in three acts about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul”. It’s a story about Yeong-hye, 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. Even though Yeong-hye doesn’t have much of a voice in the novel, this is one of the definitive dark women’s stories of the century. Read my full review of The Vegetarian here.

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

The Bass Rock - Evie Wyld - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Evie Wyld is renowned for her dark women’s stories – in fact, she’s won awards for them, time and time again. The Bass Rock is undoubtedly the darkest. It stretches across centuries to examine the various forms of violence visited upon women by men. There are three women at its heart: Sarah, in the 1700s, accused of being a witch and forced to flee into the woods; Ruth, navigating a new home, a new husband, and a new family in the wake of WWII; and Viv, in the present day, forced to reckon with the weight of inter-generational trauma and dysfunction. Read my full review of The Bass Rock here.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sayaka Murata has produced the best dark women’s stories out of Japan this decade (and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on). Take Earthlings, which might appear to be a story about a family black sheep who believes she has super-powers… before it twists, and twists again, and again. At 34 years old, 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. Elements of the surreal and the horrific make the story tangible, visceral, and unforgettable. Read my full review of Earthlings here.

The Recovery Of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

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

Stephanie Wrobel’s debut novel, The Recovery of Rose Gold (called Darling Rose Gold in other regions), explores the twisted co-dependent relationship between mother and daughter that develops as a result of the mother’s Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. As far as dark women’s stories go, it’s hard to imagine anything darker than a woman intentionally making her own child sick to serve her own pathology. MSBP is a relatively rare psychological condition, and as a premise for a thriller it’s intense and fascinating. Read my full review of The Recovery Of Rose Gold here.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Hurricane Season - Fernanda Melchor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Hurricane Season is a murder mystery (of sorts) set in rural Mexico, and translated into English by Sophie Hughes. It’s inspired by real events, an honest-to-goodness witch hunt, near Melchor’s hometown. The story 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. That might sound fairly benign for dedicated thriller readers, but it’s a heavy read, well deserving of its place on this list of dark women’s stories. Read my full review of Hurricane Season here.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Ottessa Moshfegh has basically become the poster child for dark women’s stories. Eileen is the one that shot her to literary stardom. Eileen Dunlop is “an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors”. As you can imagine, this has left her pretty bitter and twisted, which is why Rebecca – the prison’s new counselor – is a breath of fresh air. But in dark women’s stories, there’s never an uncomplicated friendship, and no such thing as a truly happy ending.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Heaven - Mieko Kawakami - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Two bullied teenagers find connection and solace in each other. A lazy eye and a dirty shirt are enough to see them ostracised by their peers. They exchange letters, each dripping with the desperate emotional intimacy of kids who don’t have anyone else. Over the course of just 167 pages, their friendship devolves to a horrifying denoument. The narrator of Heaven is an adolescent boy, but it’s so rich in feeling and so deep in despair (plus, it’s written by such a badass Japanese woman) that it surely belongs among the best dark women’s stories of recent years. Read my full review of Heaven here.

« Older posts Newer posts »