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Best recent novels by female authors

Literary Snobs

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Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 10:12am Top

I've realized that the vast majority of novels I’ve read are by men, so I’m trying to read more novels by female authors. Below are some of my favorites by women. I think these are all well-written enough to be considered “literary.” If you could please list some of what you think are the best recent novels by female authors, I can start building a to-read list. Thanks! (PS: I’m looking for novels from the past fifty years or so, as I’m personally not a huge fan of Austen, the Brontës, or Woolf.)

The Handmaid’s Tale
Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine
A Visit from the Goon Squad
Half of a Yellow Sun
The Secret History
The Giver
The Lovely Bones
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
The Girl Who Played Go
Joy Luck Club

Jun 10, 2012, 9:56am Top

My wife enjoys the novels of Siri Hustvegt, Paul Auster's wife.

My favorite female writer has to be Annie Dillard--she's written some novels too but she's best known for her non-fiction. HOLY THE FIRM is a magnificent book, a life-changer.

Jun 10, 2012, 9:57am Top

Women of Sand and Myrrh, Hanan al-Shaykh
The Door, Magda Szabó
The Testament of Jessie Lamb, Jane Rogers
anything by Sara Paretsky
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
The Godless Boys, Naomi Wood

Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 11:47am Top

Don't forget the novels and short stories of Angela Carter.

Jun 10, 2012, 11:36am Top

GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn. Jaw-droppingly good.

Jun 10, 2012, 11:43am Top

If we're doing sf as well... then anything by Gwyneth Jones. L Timmel Duchamp's Marq'ssan Cycles is also excellent. And I've been impressed by recent books by Carolyn Ives Gilman, Lauren Beukes and Kameron Hurley. Actually, you might as well just check out SF Mistressworks and Daughters of Prometheus. Not everything reviewed there is especially good, but there's plenty to choose from.

Jun 10, 2012, 1:21pm Top

The best recent women's novels I've read recently are:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt
and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (which you already have)

Going back further (but within the 50 year mark) I'd suggest anything by Penelope Fitzgerald or Pat Barker.

In SF I would agree with Ian about Lauren Beukes. Her Zoo City is very good. Moxyland is on my TBR pile so I can't comment on that.

Jun 10, 2012, 1:29pm Top

Amen to Pat Barker. Her World War I trilogy is superb.

Let's not forget Barbara Kingsolver, Julie Orringer, Alice Munro, Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson and, if you wanna get REALLY literary and esoteric, how about Grace Krilanovich's THE ORANGE EATS CREEPS.

Jun 10, 2012, 1:50pm Top

Jun 10, 2012, 4:43pm Top

Arcadia by Lauren Groff is pretty good; it came out early this spring. Anuradha Roy is one of my favorite authors because of An Atlas of Impossible Longing, and I would also recommend Susan Vreeland and Julia Alvarez.

Jun 10, 2012, 5:07pm Top

I recommend a fine Canuck lass, Barbara Gowdy. Her novel THE WHITE BONE is highly regarded (my wife loved it), but I like her early, macabre tales, found in the volume WE SO SELDOM LOOK ON LOVE. Literate, but with a nasty streak.

Jun 10, 2012, 5:08pm Top

11 - I completely agree with Anuradha Roy for The God of Small Things. Also, Heather Jessup's The Lightning Field was a wonderful read by a new, female author.

Jun 10, 2012, 5:17pm Top

13 - Please don't confuse Anuradha Roy (An Atlas of Impossible Longing; The Folded Earth) with Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things). Both are excellent writers, but easily confused. There was one review I read of An Atlas of Impossible Longing that wouldn't stop comparing it with 'the author's first novel, The God of Small Things.'

Jun 10, 2012, 9:37pm Top

14: The titles do seem eerily similar. It's like the Great Minds at the publishing houses had their Mad Libs for Lit Titles at the ready.

The _____ of _____

The God of Small Things
The Inheritance of Loss
Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Good content aside, the titles are getting a wee tad predictable. Like the trending of teen vampire love in Young Adult Fiction. Am I the only one who sees this?

Jun 10, 2012, 9:37pm Top

14: The titles do seem eerily similar. It's like the Great Minds at the publishing houses had their Mad Libs for Lit Titles at the ready.

The _____ of _____

The God of Small Things
The Inheritance of Loss
Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Good content aside, the titles are getting a wee tad predictable. Like the trending of teen vampire love in Young Adult Fiction. Am I the only one who sees this?

Jun 10, 2012, 9:47pm Top

I think Roxana Robinson and Elizabeth Strout are two of the top contemporary female authors.
Susan Sterling is also excellent, as is Jane Smiley. And Monica Wood.

Jun 11, 2012, 5:18am Top

Wot? No Iris Murdoch?

Jun 11, 2012, 7:35am Top

Jeanette Winterson. And then some more Jeanette Winterson.

Jun 11, 2012, 7:52am Top

16: If it's not that, it's The ______'s _______.

e.g. The Memory Keeper's Daughter, The Soldier's Wife, and so on.

Titles have indeed become quite formulaic these days.

Jun 11, 2012, 8:39am Top

One very recent book I've read by a female author is Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber. I've yet to read any of her other works, but this novel is fantastic.

Jun 11, 2012, 11:24am Top

#17 I thought Strout's Olive Kitteridge was good but nothing special. I wouldn't put it on my top ten list.

Jun 11, 2012, 12:38pm Top

I second the following:
A. S. Byatt
Diana Abu-Jaber
Arundhati Roy (I have not read the other lady with the same last name - wow, will have to check her out)

No one seems to have mentioned Barbara Kingsolver but I have read one of her novels and it was really disturbing and memorable, The Poisonwood Bible.

Also another female author with ties to Africa, Nadine Gordimer is a very good writer.

Jun 11, 2012, 1:04pm Top

Anna: see #9.

Jun 11, 2012, 3:25pm Top

Sorry, it wasn't blue! :)

Edited: Jun 11, 2012, 6:39pm Top

Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston -- But it's autobiography. Still, really well written.

Edited: Jun 11, 2012, 9:10pm Top

Rikki Ducornet. I'm always amazed that she 's so little known and celebrated.

Jun 11, 2012, 10:09pm Top

@ #6: Thanks for reminding me of Geek Love. Great novel. Makes me want to reread it now.

Jun 11, 2012, 11:13pm Top

GEEK LOVE. If anyone hasn't read it...wow. What a book.

Jun 12, 2012, 9:19am Top

I was supposed to read Geek Love this year for book club, but with all my senior year/college stuff never got around to it. It would be pretty high up on the TBR list now - it looks like a really quirky and interesting book, right up my alley - but it's already been packed for my family's move.

Jun 12, 2012, 9:25am Top

I'm currently reading Kit Whitfield's In Great Waters and not entirely sure I like it. OTOH, I've enjoyed Liz Jensen's novels. And she has a new one due out next month, The Uninvited*.

(*no touchstone as it doesn't appear to be in LT's database yet)

Jun 14, 2012, 4:16am Top

I enjoyed Anna Funder's historical novel All That I Am.

Jun 14, 2012, 8:32am Top

Apart from those already mentioned: Angela Carter (as Cliff pointed out): at least for Nights at the circus and The magic toyshop. A.S. Byatt's little sister, for the Headleand trilogy (The radiant way, etc.). Marina Warner isn't really a great novelist, but Indigo or mapping the waters definitely deserves to be in the list.

I'm not sure about Kate Atkinson and Sarah Waters: I liked Behind the scenes at the museum and Tipping the velvet when I first read them, but I haven't enjoyed their later books as much (Case histories was OK, though). I don't know if their first novels will really stand up to rereading.

Although not really "recent" in the usual sense, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor both scrape into the "last fifty years" category with their last two or three novels; quite a lot of Patricia Highsmith's work falls into the category too, e.g. The glass cell, Ripley under ground, Edith's diary and Small g. All worth reading.

Jun 14, 2012, 9:36am Top

I second Robinson's Gilead. If you're also looking for short fiction, Pee on Water by Rachel Glaser is one of the best books of same I've read in a few years.

Jun 15, 2012, 11:31am Top

Well, if you're going for short fiction I am near to the end of Binocular Vision, Edith Pearlman's award-winning, recent collection. The stories are quite wonderful and deserve all the accolades they have received.

Jun 15, 2012, 2:26pm Top

My list is also dominated by male authors. However, White Teeth by Zadie Smith is one of my favorites.

Jun 15, 2012, 4:22pm Top

36: Not to be confused with Sarah Silverman's memoir Bedwetter

Edited: Jun 16, 2012, 7:16pm Top

I know none of these are particularly 'recent', but I really enjoyed them.

Jeanette Winterson is amazing, but not to everyone's taste... Try Sexing the Cherry, The Passion etc. Oranges are not the only fruit is good too.

Also, Jennifer Egan's other book (Invisible Circus) is lovely.

My favourite, though, is Nicole Krauss' The History of Love.

Edited: Jan 12, 2013, 10:19am Top

Some have already been mentioned here, but this is the company lingering on my desk at the moment:

Virginia Woolf (Yes, I know VW is not within the last 50 years...but I'm going to nod to her anyway because of her influence on those who followed)
Janet Frame, Faces in the Water
Paula Fox, Desperate Characters
Margaret Drabble
Joyce Carol Oates
Angela Carter
Iris Murdoch
Ann Tyler
Cristina Garcia
Gail Godwin
Donna Tartt
Doris Lessing
Flannery O'Connor
Harper Lee
Anne Lamott
Ingrid Hill
Lorrie Moore
Carson McCullers
Elizabeth Kostova
Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (recent purchase)
Anne Carson, If Not, Winter
Judy Grahn, The Work of a Common Woman
Lady Charlotte Guest, The Mabinogion (Another very old book, but she's still out there.)
Linda Nochlin, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism 1874-1974
Georgia O'Keeffe, Some Memories of Drawings

(It seems I have an equal amount of male and female in this stack on my desk.)

Yes, I do need to clean my desk.

Jun 18, 2012, 8:47am Top

Christa Wolf, Accident, or Kassandra.

Jun 18, 2012, 11:17am Top

I didn't mean to leave these two ladies out...they aren't currently on my desk because I loaned them to my son.

Kio Stark, Follow Me Down
Vanessa Veselka, Zazen

and one more Lynne Tillman...she was there, hiding with her spine turned away between Paula Fox and Iris Murdoch.

Jun 19, 2012, 12:41pm Top

One More River
It should have been a bestseller.

Jun 27, 2012, 3:03pm Top

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
The Bronze Horseman by Paulinna Simons
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Jun 27, 2012, 3:04pm Top

Jan 4, 2013, 2:22am Top

Ann Patchett esp. Bel Canto
Yoko Ogawa - The Housekeeper & the Professor
Julie Otsuka esp. The Buddha in the Attic
Laura Lippman - What the Dead Know
Anne Tyler - The Accidental Tourist, Beginner's Goodbye
Geraldine Brooks - March
S. J. Rozan esp. Concourse
Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl
Erin Morgenstern - The Night Circus
Penelope Lively - The Photograph
Margaret Atwood - Oryx & Crake
Jennifer Egan - Look at Me

Jan 4, 2013, 4:30am Top

Girl Reading, Katie Ward, is excellent. The Godless Boys, Naomi Wood, is not bad, though I wasn't that impressed.

Jan 4, 2013, 8:00am Top

Land by Pak Kyung-ni. Though only a piece of this massive work is available in English it's clearly a masterpiece. Don't balk at the high price of the three volume edition now available. Just get your hands on it and read.

I'm also a great fan of Rikki Ducornet, one of our most under-appreciated American novelists.

And Yoko Tawada is always worth checking out.

Jan 5, 2013, 11:38am Top

I thought Oryx & Crake was rather mediocre, I have Brook's March, Robinson's Gilead and Erdrich's The Round House on my pile.

Edited: Jan 5, 2013, 4:43pm Top

Geek Love is half of my user name, the other being Little, Big.

As for women authors, I'd add Amy Hempel and Jhumpa Lahiri. We can't forget the short fiction.

Edited: Jan 9, 2013, 7:07pm Top

I recently read Gina Berriault, Women in Their Beds...quite a stunning short story collection.

Jan 7, 2013, 6:23pm Top

Want something which makes you question your own life -- and death -- yet keeps you chuckling? Try THE BAG LADY WAR, by Carol Leonard Secroy. Hard to find, but even harder to put-down. -- Goddard

Jan 8, 2013, 11:22am Top

40: I second recommending Nicole Krauss. I have The History of Love waiting to be read, but I have read her book Great House and loved it.

Edited: Jan 8, 2013, 1:59pm Top

Try these:

Toby's Room by Barker

One More River by Glickman

22 Britannia Road: A Novel by Hodgkinson

Edited: Jan 8, 2013, 3:39pm Top

10> Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht is excellent. I also loved Lavinia by Le Guin.

Edited: Jan 8, 2013, 4:26pm Top

57: I started The Tiger's wife and really loved the beginning but have all these ER commitments and group reads so it didn't go very far. It is on my stack though.

Jan 8, 2013, 11:33pm Top

It's too bad so many of the novels listed here are not recent at all. If the best answer you can come up with for 'recent novel by female author' is Virginia Woolf... it means you need to read more contemporary fiction by women. Woolf is not recent!

Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky is a great recent novel.

Jan 9, 2013, 8:46am Top

In re #59. Friendly request for clarification. What do you mean by "recent"? If you mean that the ink is still drying on the pages, you're right. Otherwise you are mistaken: the great majority of the TITLE here are less than twenty years old. Obviously that long lst of authors (above) is something else.

Edited: Feb 8, 2013, 8:25pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Mar 18, 2013, 1:02am Top

Chris Kraus's Summer of Hate is excellent.

Apr 2, 2013, 3:54pm Top

Gone With the Wind and Little Women come to mind. Or do you mean more recent authors?

Apr 2, 2013, 8:23pm Top

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (comes out next week)
I second the poster who suggested Arcadia
Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman, if you like short stories

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