As Wonder Woman hits the big screen, Hillingdon Library Staff review books with a female protagonist. From timeless heroines to modern teenagers, from eponymous titles to novels written by women and about women. Read along and get inspired!
We read and review fiction books on a set theme every month, for you.
1. A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore
This is a story about friendships, growing up, love and heroism. We follow Beatrice’s life, beginning with summer days set against the stunning Cornish coastline. Beatrice, whose mother is French, is invited to live with the rich Wincanton family to keep their daughter company. Whilst at Carlyon Manner Beatrice meets the love of her life, Rafe. She doesn’t realise this immediately and neither does Rafe who proposes to Beatrice’s best friend Angie Wincanton. Angie the rich daughter of an MP based mainly in London, wants for nothing materially and is used to getting her own way. However, you do have sympathy when life deals her some unfortunate cards in this tale. As Beatrice gets older we learn that she has an inner strength and a sense of right and wrong. All she needs is a purpose, which comes along in the shape of the 2nd World War. Beatrice volunteers into First Aid Nursing, finds love with an officer and falls pregnant. Like so many, the officer never comes home. Bringing up a child in such troubled times is difficult, but Beatrice knows she can do more. Speaking French she enrols as a spy which is a life changing experience. After many sacrifices, she now has to make another. This is where we meet Lucy who has just lost her father. After searching through some old papers she has come to look for Carlyon Manor, which has since burnt down. Lucy knocks on Beatrice’s door and Beatrice who is now very old, tells her all about the Wincantons. This story kept me gripped throughout. Whilst playing down the horrors of being caught as a spy, the author captured the atmosphere of times and locations really well.
4 out of 5 stars. Barbara – Ickenham Library
2. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
‘Purple Hibiscus’ is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of political and social unrest in post-colonial Nigeria. The narrator is 15 year old Kambili who lives a privileged and sheltered life in a wealthy family. However, her father, although respected and generous in the community, is a tyrant in his own household, feared by his wife and children who try desperately to please him. After a military coup Kambili and her brother Jaja are sent to stay with their aunt and cousins where they flourish in the more relaxed lifestyle and Kambili begins to gain courage and self-respect. This wonderful book educated, saddened and delighted me in equal measures and I shall definitely read more by this author.
5 out of 5 stars. Carol – Northwood Library
3. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
‘Mrs Dalloway’ is a key Modernist novel, written in the wake of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ and in the glow of psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on how experience shapes the individual. The novel, then, is tightly focused on the consciousness and memories of the characters, rather than the contemporary events. Taking place on a summer’s day in June 1923, the titular main character is getting ready for a party. Upper class, non-intellectual and repressed, Clarissa Dalloway doesn’t really come to life as a character. We see her as she sees herself, and as others see her. Some people loathe her; others love or admire her. It’s hard to say what Woolf thinks of her, but unlike Joyce and Leopold Bloom, she doesn’t seem to have much affection for Clarissa, and I don’t know enough about Woolf to suggest she identifies with her in any way. As well as being a Modernist classic, it has a claim on feminist literature too, with meditations on women’s bodies and choices at the different stages of life (and often contrasted with men). The themes of sanity and insanity are also very strong, particularly as Clarissa is linked through the loose narrative to Septimus Warren Smith, the schizophrenic shell-shocked soldier whose suicide Clarissa considers a heroic act, even whilst she shallowly feels such a matter should not be raised at the party she’s hosting. Woolf committed suicide after her own madness returned, so there’s possibly more of herself in Septimus than in Clarissa.
5 out of 5 stars. Darren – Uxbridge Library
4. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
Evie’s life is not easy at all. Most people’s teenage years are difficult, but Evie is having a particularly challenging time. Not only does she have to face regular issues such as school, family, friends and other relationships, but she also struggles with her mental health. She is very young but she already has a past she wants to keep secret, away from her new friends. She just wants to be a regular teenager, asking herself “Am I normal Yet?”. But who is actually ‘normal’? Who can help her? Holly Bourne’s clear view on mental health is educational and helpful. The story is well-informed as well as entertaining. The female point of view pervades all the pages, touching delicate themes. A group of female friends take central stage in Evie’s life and provide a meaningful view of young women’s lives. I would like to read more from Holly Bourne; her question-mark titles sound promising. ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’, ‘…And Happy New Year?’, ‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’.
4 out of 5 stars. Federico – Northwood Library
5. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
In Neil Gaiman’s fantasy, the eponymous heroine is a notably sassy and resourceful young girl, somewhat reminiscent of a modern-day Alice in Wonderland. The alternate world she finds herself in, however, is very different from Lewis Carroll’s. Despite the many touches of humour, some quite black, this is a dystopia of horror and gruesomeness in which Coraline must face deadly peril to save herself, her parents and the souls of other children from long ago. Incidental pleasures include the retired luvvies Miss Forcible and Miss Spink, and a sardonic talking cat…
4 out of 5 stars. Mike – Eastcote Library
Have you read any of these books? Do you find novels with a female protagonist particularly interesting? Why aren’t there more books -and films- where women take central stage? You can borrow all these books from our catalogue. Thanks for reading!