Are you tired of stories that only focus on women and their relationship with men? Here are five novels you'll love that have nothing to do with romantic love.
Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test? Well, while it’s mostly used for films and television, this test looks for scenes that have two women talking to each other about anything else than men and romantic interests. Sounds simple, right? Well, it turns out that most of our favorite movies don’t pass it. While it’s not as effective to determine female representation, it’s shocking that some of the most important films ever made don’t even pass this simple rule. The test was created by Alison Bechdel, but the idea comes from Virginia Woolf's A Room of One’s Own, where she delves into the representation of women in literature. As she expresses, “almost without exception [women] are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex but seen only in relation to the other sex.”
I do believe that nowadays it’s easier to find books with strong female characters whose interactions aren’t based on their relation to the other sex or just focus on their romantic interests. So, bearing that in mind, here are five novels that prove women don’t have to follow these standards to create important stories. On the contrary, romance isn’t an interest we all share.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Since the series was a huge success, I think it’s necessary to read the novel that inspired it to appreciate the greater picture. Set in a dystopian future in what used to be the United States (and now goes by the name of Republic of Gilead), the story focuses on Offred, a handmaid who’s constantly looking at the bright past (and rights) she had before the Republic established a dictatorship. But what’s a handmaid? In Atwood’s universe, these women are selected for reproductive purposes in a desperate attempt to increase the number of births, since there’s been a decline as a consequence of extreme pollution and STIs. It might sound like a fiction, but if you think about it, it’s not a wild idea at all.
Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann (2013)
As the second part of her saga based in the life of Ellie McEnroe, a war veteran who fought in Iraq, the story focuses on Ellie's life in Beijing, working as the representative of a highly controversial dissident artist. However, even when her life in China hasn’t been calmed, things will get even more complicated when she decides to help an old friend from the Army to search for his missing brother. Their quest will get her involved in a secret and dangerous conspiracy involving a biotech company and a group of ecological terrorists. Definitely a great example of women taking over parts and roles that were saved for men in the past.
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (2007)
If you’re more into criminal and forensic stories but enjoy historical fiction novels, this one will be perfect for you. Set in medieval Cambridge, the novel revolves around the murder of four children that people blame on the Jews, since they believed they sacrificed Christians in their rituals. Knowing that without the economic support of Jewish people, the realm would go into a severe crisis, King Henry II decides to contact his cousin, the King of Sicily, since his realm is famous for having the best medical and investigating experts. What he finds surprising is that the most important “master of the art of death” (a term that basically means detective in our modern language), is none other but a woman called Adelia. Throughout the novel, Adelia, who will have to conceal her real identity so the superstitious people of Cambridge won’t think she's a witch, will work untiringly to solve this crime and catch the murderer before they strike again.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)
Set in the late twenty-first century, a time when time travel is actually possible, the novel tells the story of Kivrin Engle, a young historian specialized in medieval history. Kivrin is so passionate about history that she asks the authorities of the time traveling project to allow her to go back to fourteenth-century Oxford. After a lot of trouble she manages to convince them to send her, but just as she’s sent to the past, the technician who set the machine falls terribly ill from a new type of influenza there’s no cure for. As Kivrin arrives in Oxford, she also falls terribly ill losing consciousness. She forgets the drop point to go back, and as she tries to find it, she will be integrated into society, while people in the present try desperately to bring her back, since they’ve noticed that she was actually sent to the times of the Black Death. I don’t want to go further because I don’t really want to spoil this awesome novel.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (2012)
The movie adaptation will be released later this year with Cate Blanchett as Bernadette, but let me tell you that you shouldn’t wait to see the movie. When Bernadette, a successful architect, disappears days before she going on a family trip to Antarctica with her husband and her fifteen-year-old daughter, the latter will have to go through all their correspondence and evidence to find out what happened to her. Oh, to make things even more interesting, we learn that her mother is an agoraphobic woman who gets really anxious when she’s around people. With a comic tone, Semple’s novel is definitely a story that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
Literature has always been the perfect platform to escape from the constrictive chains and patterns society has set. However, it can be influenced to a certain degree by the moral values and stereotypes that rule in society. We should still question and act upon the fact that there are still women's stories that only focus on their relationship with men or simplify them as characters who only care about romances.
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