Stylist recently invited budding book critics to submit a 100 word review of their favourite read by a female author for the chance to win the opportunity to write our Quiet Night In page for an upcoming issue of the magazine. Having received plenty of fantastic entries, the Stylist team set about the task of whittling them down to a shortlist of ten, which you can now read in the gallery below.
We then asked Stylist readers to choose their favourite review from the ten shortlisted, which we combined with our panel's votes. It was incredibly close, by the eventual winner was Rebecca Cosgriff with her review of Emma Donoghue's Room. Rebecca's reviews page will appear in an upcoming issue of Stylist, so be sure to watch out for it. In the meantime, we'd like to congratulate all our shortlisted finalists, whose reviews you can read in the gallery below...
The Critic: Maxine Francis Roper
The Book: The Group , Mary McCarthy
"Known for frank and daring descriptions of female sexuality way ahead of its time, Mary McCarthy's story of five female graduates of New York's prestigious Vassar College, has inspired women writers as far apart as Sarah Waters and Candace Bushnell since. Published in 1963 and set in the 1930s, the writing is as vibrant and breathless as modern chick-lit but with the depth of literary historical fiction. It presents familiar issues (class, careers, relationships) alongside taboos of the age (abortion, lesbianism). Above all, it's a timeless study of female friendships and high-society cliques in all their catty and compelling glory."
The Critic: Rosa Abbott
The Book: Wise Children, Angela Carter
"A mock-memoir, Wise Children chronicles the existence of two batty septuagenarian ex-chorus girls, twins Nora and Dora Chance, and the ways in which their bawdy, chaotic lives clash with the elite Hazard Dynasty from which they descend... illegitimately. Perennially seeking acceptance (or even acknowledgment) from their Shakespearean-actor father, the girls pull out every stop to catch his eye during their eventful lives. But though dark undertones linger, the resilience and wit of the leading ladies transform this bleak tale of poverty and rejection into a whirlwind celebration of life. Carter’s compelling and original narrative style renders this a feminist masterpiece."
The Critic: Rebecca Cosgriff
The Book: Room, Emma Donoghue
"Meet Jack; a boy whose perception of the world is limited to the 12ft square room from which he has never left. Child of his incarcerated ‘Ma’ and her monstrous captor, Jack’s life is dominated by the intense relationship with his mother, and the deceptions that she has woven to keep the horrors of his existence from him. Horrific themes are introduced by cleverly structured omissions to create a novel that is ultimately a glimpse into the private world a mother and her son, with ever present intimations of the Fritzl case adding an effectively unsettling chill to every word."
Gentleman and Players
The Critic: Amy Jones
The Book: Gentlemen and Players, Joanne Harris
"Every woman and their cat read Chocolat, Harris’s most famous novel. But if Chocolat was curling up by the fire with a glass of red wine, Gentlemen and Players is a shot of whisky on a stormy night — and it’s all the better for it. Set in an elite public school for boys, the story is narrated by both an old Latin master and ‘Mole’, a new teacher with a fifteen year old grudge against the school. Cue love, hate, sex, murder and betrayal, all presented in Harris’s deliciously decadent style of storytelling. Thrilling, yet curiously satisfying."
Half of a Yellow Sun
The Critic: Katy Loftus
The Book: Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"African conflict has become almost passé to us in its unerring frequency and predictable horror. Adichie's novel brings it instead to shocking life. Half of a Yellow Sun is at once an incisive record of the 1967-70 Nigerian Civil War, and a heartbreaking, humorous and utterly authentic examination of humanity. We follow three intersecting lives in 1960s Nigeria: houseboy Ugwu; his Master's lover Olanna; and her sister's white boyfriend, Richard. Adichie's language and characters pulse with life, in a novel that will take you to the dark places of humanity, as well as the light, and leave you reeling."
The Critic: Rebecca Foster
The Book: American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
"The life of former First Lady Laura Bush might not sound like promising material, but this fictional autobiography delights. When shy librarian Alice falls for Charlie, heir of the Blackwell political dynasty, private tragedies from her past − and her disagreement with her husband’s policies − threaten to emerge. It’s delicious fun to spot Bush family and administration members in this roman à clef. The well-drawn characters defy caricatures of a conniving presidential idiot and his meek, silent wife. Imagining the rich inner story that resides in every unassuming introvert, Sittenfeld has created a masterpiece from an ordinary life."
Her Fearful Symmetry
The Critic: Lucy Christian
The Book: Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
"Before reading this book, be warned; this is unlike the cult classic charting the time travelling trials of Clare and Henry. If possible, it's better. The chilling tale follows identical twins Julia and Valentine, who, despite appearances, are contradictory in nature. Upon the death of estranged Aunt Elspeth, the twins inherit their elusive relation's Highgate home. London's most famous cemetery provides the perfect backdrop to this fantastically unravelling story of family secrets, interlacing desires of both the living and the departed. Niffenegger blends science fiction with human complexity like no other, but the surprising conclusion may leave a bitter taste."
The Critic: Lauren Cooke
The Book: Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel
"Some books written bang on the Zeitgeist get old quickly. The most insightful social commentary becomes bland and repetitive, the story predictable. However, this 90's tale of salvation and depression following the prescription of the life-changing Prozac pill somehow manages to remain an inspiring window into the mind of a very troubled young woman – and it is easily as important now as it was when published. From page-to-page we are sardonically welcomed into every thought and feeling of a person suffering from severe depression, and it sits alongside iconic works such as The Bell Jar without even breaking a sweat."
The Trick to Keep Breathing
The Critic: Tina Koenig
The Book: The Trick is to Keep Breathing, Janice Galloway
"Joy Stone is depressed. Haunted by memories of the drowning of her former lover she blames herself for his death. Janice Galloway has created a complex protagonist with obsessive compulsions - giving the reader an insight into a disturbed mind. The first-person narration means that nothing is concealed. Joy’s sense of hopelessness and the tragedy of a self-destructive life stain many of the pages with accounts of bulimia, alcoholism and self-mutilation. A fascinating read filled with uncertainty and fear yet sprinkled with humour. This book makes you realise you have no idea what a person’s life may really be like."
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
The Critic: Sarah Rose
''The Book: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter
"With Hollywood’s renewed penchant for the fairytale revival, there is no better time to sample dark offerings from literatures’ original purveyor of the macabre. Angela Carter’s collection of reworked fairy tales firmly rejects the motif of the damsel in distress, instead choosing to follow strong young women and themes of awoken sexuality and confused lust in deliciously lyrical prose. From the gloomy eroticism of The Bloody Chamber to the haunting rewriting of Beauty and the Beast in The Tiger’s Bride, this collection of short stories show there is more to folk tales than beautiful princesses and happy endings."