Ann Patchett’s novel about two siblings, their unusual childhood home and a past that they can’t let go was longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction and we’re surprised it didn’t make the shortlist. Danny Conroy and his older sister Maeve grow up in The Dutch House, a grand mansion on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Their father, a self-made property magnate, is a distant figure and their mother has mysteriously walked out but the siblings are devoted to each other. But one day their father brings the ghastly Andrea home, along with Andrea’s two young daughters, and Danny and Maeve are forced to endure even greater sadness than before. Patchett writes beautifully about family, love and loss and the powerful bonds that bind us all. This is a novel that stayed in our minds long after we finished reading.
Women authors have written many of the most successful novels in history – although some of them didn’t initially get the credit they deserved.
The first four novels by the French writer Colette all appeared under her first husband’s pen name, Willy. He won fame and fortune for books like Claudine at School and it was only after Willy’s death that Colette went to court to confirm that she was the sole author and had his name removed from the covers.
At the start of their careers Charlotte, Anne and Emily Bronte all took male pseudonyms – Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell respectively – after poet laureate Robert Southey told Charlotte that “literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life”.
Mary Ann Evans used the pen name of George Eliot for books like Middlemarch and Silas Marner and when Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published anonymously many readers attributed it to her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Some of today’s novelists have chosen to use their initials rather than their first names. JK Rowling opted to use her initials for her Harry Potter books after publishers suggested young male readers might be put off by a female author. Later on, she published her Cormoran Strike crime novels under the name of Robert Galbraith.
Many of the most outstanding novels of the past two years are by women writers, including Hilary Mantel, Bernardine Evaristo, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Ann Patchett, Candice Carty-Williams, Margaret Atwood, Abi Dare and Sally Rooney. It’s exciting to see the myriad subjects they’ve chosen to write about, such as Henry VIII’s most feared adviser, domestic slaves in Lagos and the lives of black women in contemporary Britain.
It’s impossible to list all the superb books by women writers but we’ve selected some of the best novels that have been published recently, choosing them on the brilliance of their writing, their originality and their readability. Sally Rooney’s Normal People was first published in 2018 but has garnered even more praise following the recent BBC dramatisation while Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams all came out in paperback this year.
Watch out, too, for the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. The shortlist was revealed in April and the winner will be announced in September, judged, as always, on “accessibility, originality and excellence in writing by women”.
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