Araminta Hall Recommends 5 Books That Aren’t By Men

The author of “Our Kind of Cruelty” adds her picks to our Read More Women series

Araminta Hall’s thriller Our Kind of Cruelty gets deeply into the mind of a man: a stalker convinced that the object of his obsession is sending coded signals of romantic interest, even at her own wedding. But listen, sometimes you want to get deeply outside the mind of a man for a while. Here are the books—some thrillers, some not—that Hall recommends when you want to read something by a woman.

Read More Women is Electric Literature’s series, presented in collaboration with MCD Books, in which we feature prominent authors, of any gender, recommending their favorite books by women and non-binary writers. Twice a month, you’ll hear about the five non-male authors who most delight your favorite writers.

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith

The oft-dubbed queen of crime wrote a phenomenal number of tense, sharp psychological thrillers, many of which are some of the most well-known crime novels in literature, such as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. All her novels are marvels because character always take center stage, but my favorite is the portrayal of a poisonous, disintegrating marriage in Deep Water. Think Gone Girl set in the ‘50s, complete with a bored, sexually promiscuous housewife and a controlling, troubled husband. Also, it has one of my favorite first paragraphs ever, as it basically lays out the whole story without telling you anything.

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

I’m a sucker for a deluded male character and they don’t come much more deluded, but also oddly sympathetic, than Charles Arrowby. When he leaves his theatrical life in London for a remote cottage by the sea he reconnects with his teenage girlfriend and, even though she is married, becomes convinced they are destined to be together. A cast of motley characters descend on him as his delusions spiral and the sea beats away at him. A wildly funny book, it will make you laugh, cry, and think deeply. One of the best first-person character studies I have ever read.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

When this book was published in 1792 the word “feminist” didn’t exist, but I think it’s fair to call it the first real feminist text. It is a barn-stormer of a book, shouting loudly for the rights of women to be educated so they can take a proper part in daily life. As Wollstonecraft says, “I have repeatedly asserted, and produced what appeared to me irrefragable arguments drawn from matters of fact, to prove my assertion, that women cannot, by force, be confined to domestic concerns.” Although the laws she was railing against have changed, read this and weep at how little attitudes have. Then get angry and go on a march.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

If you haven’t read this then seriously stop what you’re doing right now and start. To my mind the greatest psychological thriller ever told, it also has a strong feminist message at its heart, revealing the very limited options open to women and how trapped we are by how society chooses to see us. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a love story; Max de Winter is one of the vilest anti-heroes you will ever read. Also, pay close attention to the first 20 pages, when he is enthralled to our unnamed narrator. A real master class in building and maintaining suspense.

Unless by Carol Shields

Despite her winning a Pulitzer, I have a feeling that Shields isn’t as widely read as she should be because she wrote about so-called ordinary women. We still live in a world in which domesticity is looked down upon, but the women in Shield’s novels rise above these preconceptions to find profound meaning in the everyday. In Unless, a woman’s teenage daughter suddenly decides to live on the streets holding a placard that says one word: “Goodness.” It is one of the best and most affecting pieces of writing on being a wife and mother I have read and is, ultimately, a beautifully uplifting book.

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