Lady writers

Breathtakingly cheeky book review of several books I have mostly not finished, including To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and Tirra Lirra by Jessica Anderson.

I looked at several ‘greatest books’ compilations in order to get a stack of stuff to read in the wifi-free jungle, and Virginia Woolf’s name kept popping up.

Orright, orright, says I, and I got a collection of her books for a buck.

The most highly recommended one was To the Lighthouse, so I started there.

I’m about a quarter of the way through and probably won’t finish it.

So many annoying female clichés are present in this book that if it weren’t on Kindle I’d throw it out the window.  There’s the Apex Fallacy – of course the husband is some kind of famous philosopher.  Blokes who are not famous somethings do not exist.  There’s the Solipsism – why should the little wife, or we, care about the husband’s groundbreaking work?  That’s what men are supposed to do – to bring home money for their ladies and shower them with reflected prestige.  The details of how they do it or how difficult it might be don’t matter.

Feelz – we have to know exactly how every character is feeling.  Who is uncomfortable.  Who is proud.  Who feels neglected or jealous.  In painstaking detail.  Because how a person, especially the main lady, is feeling at any given time must be pulled apart and analyzed and no one ever says ‘toughen up, princess’.

There’s Toxic Masculinity, back before it had that name and was just called Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails.  The male brutes do not bother to notice all that vitally important emoting going on when they speak too harshly or directly or focus on the practical rather than fluttering around like tipsy homosexuals, making sure everyone’s alright.  Especially those fragile ladies.

And then Virginia comes through with my pet misogynistic peeve: Martyrdom.  The poor mother, the only one of these animals who focuses on caring about everyone else!  So hard working, so pure, so unappreciated!  Just like ME, the lady reader thinks.  My husband doesn’t appreciate ME, either.  And my daughter didn’t even eat all of the sandwich I made her which I knew was her favorite.  And Jenny from marketing is such a BITCH.

The lady reader begins to realize, all us vastly superior women should leave our bumbling menfolk and live unmolested on our own, perhaps with a few cats.  Since this book was written in 1927, they’ve done just that.

I got to thinking, are all lady writers’ voices so obviously female, and does it always get in the way of whatever the hell story it is they’re trying to tell?  I browsed my Kindle and found that I had only a very few books by girls to go on.

There was The Tale of Genji which was not too heavy on the emoting, but it was Japanese, after all.  Their favourite emoji is the stony faced one.  She didn’t put any of those in her book, but she certainly forgives Genji everything because he’s meccha alpha.  Not a werewolf but bloody close.

Then there’s Atlas Shrugged, where the girly hero is loved by all three of the most meccha alpha guys in the world.  I once read part of a Mills & Boon romance and this reminded me of it.  It was called My Tall Rich Tall Greek Tall Tall Lover.  Most sentences are about how tall he is, interspersed with how he cannot resist her charm, and how rich he is, and then seven more lines about how TALL he is.  Really, really TAAAAALLLLL.  I’ve not seen girls get into giraffe porn yet but it will come.  No doubt it will start in Japan, where they’ve been into octopus for a while and where all the girls fell in love with this gorilla.

Everything comes back to Japan, doesn’t it?

And then I’ve got Middlemarch which I haven’t started.  That lady writer gave herself a boy’s name so she’d be taken seriously.  How sexist those Victorian Neanderthals were.

And that’s it.

Oh, I found another one!  It’s a non-fiction one I can’t review yet for reasons of personal safety, but actually it’s pretty good.  So there’s one for Team Slit.  Update: I can now, it is I Didn’t Do It For You by Michela Wrong.

I read Girl With a Pearl Necklace Earring by Tracy Chevalier.  It okay, but again with the girl-as-martyr and she’s really awesome and talented while all the men are abusive, arrogant and dumb.

So, regarding the girly writer situation, I thinks to meself, I thinks: Nikolai, how about other books by ladies you’ve read in the past?  Because back at uni we were assigned books because they were Feminist or Post-Colonial or Written By Chockos rather than because they were Good.  You know the ones: Wide Sargasso Sea, Things Fall Apart, that sort.

I remember reading several books by the Australian authoress Jessica Anderson.  In general, they kept with the usual themes of female literature: the devastating martyrdom of the dear, poor, heroine; the feelz of all concerned, most of all the matyress, and how boys are bad, mmkay, and are terrible husbands and fathers and really the whole lot of them should be kept in cages and just occasionally milked for reproductive purposes or let out temporarily to kill a spider or get something heavy off the top shelf.

This is odd because HL Menken reckoned the opposite.  He said that female authors were better at describing realistic human relationships without all that misty-eyed sentimentalism what blokes have, and he mused that one day novels might be exclusively be written by women.  He mentioned quite a few by name and I considered giving them a go, but I failed to do this.  I guess I could go back and have another look.

Dear reader: am I being a bit of a dill?  Feel free to recommend better female authors if you think I’ll be impressed.

Also: do you reckon ladies get as annoyed by our books as we do by theirs?  Are our books really macho and male, with too many references to muscle cars and too detailed descriptions of infrastructure?  Serious question.

Edit: I just remembered Sue Townsend, who wrote The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.  That book made me both laugh and cry, as did Growing Pains.  Perhaps I am just unwilling to take seriously a female protagonist.  Oh, and there’s Enid Blyton, too, and the Harry Potter books by whats-her-face.  Perhaps women are better at writing for children.

Please enter that sentence in the Sexist Remarks of the Year award.  I don’t think I’m allowed to nominate myself.

That was my tribute to lady writers.

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  1. jewamongyou · May 20, 2020

    It’s nice that you’re keeping abreast of female authoresses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dickycone · May 20, 2020

    “We the Living” is Rand’s least well known novel and her most readable. She hadn’t yet developed that style where each character is an obvious avatar for some point of her Objectivist philosophy, so the characters in it act more or less like actual human beings. I lent it to a coworker who read English very well when I lived in the FSU, and she said that based on what her grandfather told her about living during Stalin’s time it was very accurate. So, not exactly cheery but a good read.

    Liked by 3 people

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  4. TechieDude · May 20, 2020

    I’ve read quite a bit Ayn Rand. At the time, they seemed like good reads. But when I went back and re-read them later, not so much.
    I’ll read books, if they are well written, 3-4x. Hell, I’ve read Piggott’s stuff at least that much and I still crack up reading some of the chapters, like the bit about the ‘frutarian’, even though I know what’s coming. Men writers nearly always have characters that most men have had to deal with, as opposed to making them up out of impression and feelz.

    I find women writers and producers will put content about men and boys in their stories that flat out don’t happen. When I hit a those parts, I’m done.


  5. Liz · May 20, 2020

    Ayn is a terrible writer. Haven’t read the others you mentioned.
    Colleen McCullough is very good though. At least, the Thornbirds was, and her masters of Rome series


    • Liz · May 20, 2020

      The White Oleander author Janet Fitch is pretty gritty. I liked that book. There’s no hagiography for her female characters. I liked Gone with the wind too.
      Slight disclaimer, it has been many many years since I’ve read any of the books I’m citing.
      But I remember them well (I read all of Ayn’s books and found them interesting but poorly written)
      There are no female equivalents to Steinbeck. Or Jack London. Or Joseph Heller. Even Joseph Heller couldn’t equal Joseph Heller, “Mr Heller, why haven’t you written anything as good as Catch 22 ever again?” His answer: “No one else has either”.
      Truth, dat.


  6. Klaus · May 21, 2020

    I’m no literature prof but I liked, “Children of Men” by P.D. James. Also the Australian, Kylie Tennant, I like. Otherwise…errr…no gals spring to mind.
    Keep up the good work!


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  8. L. Beau Macaroni · May 21, 2020

    I have enjoyed the work of the late American writer Florence King, but she’s really more an essayist than a novelist. I recommend With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look At Misanthropy (1993), Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989), and Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985), any one of which can introduce the reader to Miss King’s humorous, but acerbic style.

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. collegereactionary · May 26, 2020

    Did you ever follow up with that HL Mencken reference?

    Women are good at analyzing emotions, but only by accident. So it’s not surprising that a modern female writer, full of self-confidence and lacking any perspective, would completely fail to mention anything other than how the (self-insert) main character feels.


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