I adore novels about whom Maeve Wiley would call ‘complex female characters’. But why do so many of these books have to rely on a romance to carry the story? Where are the novels about women that don’t rely on romance? Luckily, there are plenty.
What do none of these focus on? Romantic relationships.
Because not everyone has or even wants a romantic relationship for their life to revolve around. Not everyone needs a knight in shining armour; no matter how many books tell you that you do.
So, if non-fiction books can do it, why is it so difficult to find female-led fiction novels that don’t revolve around romantic love?
Here are a few novels about women that don’t rely on romance.
All My Mothers – Joanna Glen
Published in 2021, All My Mothers is a stunning narrative about belonging and the complexities of platonic love. What (very briefly) appears to be a more sinister kidnaped-at-birth storyline, AMM comes into its own as a story about stories.
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expectation – Anna Hope
I won’t go on too much about this one, because I talk about it all the time. A gem of a novel, expectation resonates at least in part, with every twenty-something female living through the early 21st Century.
The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey
A novel about the power of love and longing, Ivey’s homeland Alaska is the integral backdrop to this breath-taking example of magical realism. It explores the devastating impacts of maternal loss, but also the fears of maternal gain. A definite conversation-starter at any book club, these are so many aspects of this gorgeous novel to discuss.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Ah, the good old A-Level classic. Please don’t be put off by this novel because your teachers have told you to read it. The Handmaid’s Tale is a scarily accurate dystopia set in ‘modern day’ North America (published in 1984). In the novel, women’s bodies are subjugated by the government, Gilead, to help repopulate the country after the birth rate plummets.
In my humble opinion, Atwood is the queen of complex female characters, leaving romance at the door. Seeing as Atwood herself had a hand in it, I would recommend watching the TV series after reading the novel. Although post-season 1 strays from the book, the sense of fury turned to empowerment is staggering.
Honourable Mention: Call the Midwife – Jennifer Worth
This text sits on the borderline between fiction and non-fiction. However, being based on true events but dramatised for effect, I couldn’t not mention it.
Whether you’ve read or watched it, you will understand what I mean when I say that this book has a deep appreciation and respect for women. Set in 1950s East End, CtM details the life of Jenny Lee, a district midwife, supporting the post-war community.
Don’t believe the stereotype that this book is meant for older women. It is one of my firm favourites and its stories really do transcend time.
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