Escape the stay-at-home summer for an afternoon or two with these uplifting and escapist reads by female authors.
There’s nothing quite like the escapist power of books to transport you to somewhere entirely different. You might be limited to spending the next few months on a small patch of balcony in Clapton, for example; but a gripping novel can spirit you away to a 1920s speakeasy, or the lazy heat of Louisiana summer nights.
Below are seven feel-good books to lift you out from any stay-at-home fug you may be in right now, and they’re all by female authors.
One 2018 study found books by women are priced 45% lower than those of their male counterparts. Historically, female authors have also struggled to make it onto the school curriculum, despite the rich cast list of contenders (Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou, to name but a few) who deserve to be celebrated.
So, it’s fair to say that female authors are long overdue their moment in the sun, with work that is well worth taking an afternoon or two to revel in.
In addition, female authors can also bring to life certain narratives (e.g. the intricate nuances of female friendship) in a way that really resonates. Here are some suggestions to get you started – grab a cuppa and get stuck in:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon
This smash-hit debut novel is actually extremely dark in parts – tackling themes such as childhood abuse, loneliness and alcoholism – but it’s underscored at all times by a deliciously light dash of humour. Office misfit Eleanor finds an unlikely champion in the form of bumbling IT guy Raymond. Their blossoming friendship – which unfolds against all odds – slowly begins to tease out and heal secrets from Eleanor’s deeply damaged past. A laugh-out-loud and heartwarming tale that entirely lives up to its hype.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
(Translated by Philip Gabriel)
This beautifully observed helping of “pet lit” follows one-time street cat Nana on a mysterious road trip across Japan with his beloved owner Satoru. Satoru is visiting old friends from his childhood in order to find a new guardian for Nana, the reason for which is not immediately clear. Partly written in the voice of the cat (which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but absolutely does), this novel tugs at the heart strings with themes of loyalty, kindness and a deep-rooted bond between cat and owner.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Female friendship often gets a backseat in literature but Rebecca Wells’ 1996 New York Times bestseller brings the motif to life in glorious technicolour. A group of fiercely loyal and eccentric women navigate the highs and lows of life in small-town Louisiana, drawing from a lifelong connection that will ring true with anyone who’s experienced the joy of sisterhood.
There are gorgeous scenes here of cocktails by the river, and rooftop swims by twilight, interweaved with the moving story of a mother and daughter struggling to mend their rift. Fans can move onto Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, which explores similar themes of female friendship in an earlier era.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In many ways, Half of a Yellow Sun is an incredibly sad book. So heart-wrenching, in fact, that some would argue it doesn’t qualify as feel-good material. But, as is the case with many great novels, the love depicted amid the turmoil (love between husband and wives, love between lovers, love between mother and child, and love between sisters) is so bright and relatable, it trumps all else. The Orange Prize-winning book is set during the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-70, and follows the story of twins Olanna and Kainene, whose lives will change forever by the conflict.
The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
This is the first of the Cazalet Chronicles, an epic family saga set in the 1930s and 40s that has won legions of devoted readers around the world. Each chapter tackles the story through a different family member’s perspective, with characters who are instantly familiar (if not always loveable). Scenes from a bygone era are brought to life in exquisite detail: think tennis matches, picnics and trips to the pictures, all played out in the shadow of a looming world war and murmurs of age old -family politics. Like all families, the Cazalets’ ties are complicated, messy and sometimes disturbing: but ultimately, this is a book you’ll come away from feeling toasty warm.
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
Set in Hong Kong in the wartime and the 1950s, this evocative book conjures up themes of love, betrayal and high society in a way that can’t fail to captivate. A piano teacher stumbles upon dark family secrets from a decade before, when the privileged world of Hong Kong’s elite was torn apart during the Japanese occupation, leaving relationships deeply exposed. Although sad in parts, The Piano Teacher is also a tale of romance, revival and new beginnings. We challenge you not to romp through it at an Olympian pace.
Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley
Journalist Alexandra Heminsley tackles the meditative art of wild swimming in this life-affirming read. Setting out in the choppy grey waves off Brighton pier is no mean feat; and Heminsley paints a vivid picture of the mental barriers that must be overcome in achieving such a daunting physical feat. Above all, though, this is an uplifting ode to the freedom of conquering fear and what happens when you truly stretch your limits. It’s also a rousing tribute to the Great Outdoors. You’ll be reaching for your swimmers in no time for a paddle in your nearest lake/river/beach cove.
Images: Getty, Perfecto Capucine and Mariana Vusiatytska on Unsplash