For those of you who may not know, I’m part of the Women Writers Network. We are a group of volunteers who run a Twitter account dedicated to supporting and promoting women writers. It is a brilliant place to discover new writers or to be reminded of old favourites, to share blog posts, writing tips, and get support on those days when you might be flagging.
Here, some of our founder members give their recommendations of their books of the year. Unlike most end of year lists, the books didn’t have to have been published in 2018. It means that some old favourites or the new discoveries that may have been published several years ago can get a mention too. Here are our recommendations (in alphabetical order by contributor).
Gail Aldwin, poet, short fiction writer and novelist
I loved reading My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Stroud this year. The situation of a young mother visited by her own mother while in hospital sparks as series of memories that offer a patchwork of recollections that allows the reader to meander through Lucy’s early experiences. As a writer I enjoyed the journey which made me reflect upon the use of memoir techniques in fiction writing.
The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick. Sedgwick’s speculative fiction is based on the premis of reproductive technology having been developed which allows both men and women to carry prosthetic wombs, thus sharing the work of gestating a child. We view the world Sedgwick has created from multiple viewpoints – those who see the technology as having liberated women from the dangers and drugery of natural childbirth, and those who are sceptical. A good page turner, with mystery and a nuauced exploration of sensitive issues around reproduction and birth.
Lynn Davidson, poet, creative writing tutor and researcher
My favourite reads this year were the wonderful, strange and riveting Milkman by Anna Burns, and Rachel Cusk’s trilogy of novels Outline, Transit and Kudos. Cusk’s books reveal, or rather explore, how men talk and women listen. I thought the last scene of Kudos was brilliant. I also read, getting to it rather late, Denise Reily’s poetry collection Say Something Back which is addressed to, and speaks about her late son. Along with much else, each writer explores voice, what it is to speak and what it is to be heard, and works the platforms of novel and poem to see what it can carry in terms of voice and points of view. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek. This was recommended by my friend the writer, Melissa Ledwidge. This novel is so troubling and brave and startling – it reminds you there are such possibilities.
Rita Gould, writer, editor and blogger
Among Rita’s recommendations is Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This is one of the books that was referred to time and time again when we did our Women Writers Network Twitter chat on Women and the Environment earlier this year. Published in 1962, its stark warnings about pesticide use and other environmental catastrophes are as frighteningly relevant today as they were over fifty years ago. Other recommendations by Rita include novels by two Women Writers Network members The Chicken Soup Murder by Maria Donovan, The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor along with Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
Helen Taylor, novelist
Milkman by Anna Burns. There are many books that I admire and enjoy but every now and then a novel comes along which I wish with every cell of my body that I had written myself. Milkman was one of those novels. Despite the difficult subject and the sinister undertones, it is a really funny book with a harsh, wry humour. I absolutely loved it.
Up there too was the beautiful Findings by Kathleen Jamie. A gorgeous collection of pieces about the Scottish landscape, simply written but full of poetry. It made me feel homesick and wistful.
As a rule, I don’t review books on this site. Now that I know lots of writers either personally or virtually, I find it a difficult thing to do. There is no way I’d want to write a bad review of a novel by someone I knew but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to compromise my standards and say I enjoyed something that I didn’t really. Which makes it such a joy to be able to say that both the novels by Women Writers Network members that I read this year were an absolute delight. I loved Maria Donovan’s The Chicken Soup Murder, an unconventional murder mystery which for me is really a beautifully written study of bereavement. That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina is an exquisitely told tale of love and loss, with lyrical writing and beautiful scenery that seems to be right there in front of your eyes. A heartbreaking story that I didn’t want to end.
Valeria Vescina, author, creative writing tutor and reviewer
In Amy Sackville’s Painter to the King (Granta Books, 2018), you see the court of Philip IV of Spain through the eyes of Diego Velazquez; the relationship between artist and monarch is poignantly portrayed. Another memorable novel involving a painter is Ali Smith’s How to be both (Hamish Hamilton, 2014): ingenious and riveting, it involves story lines separated by centuries and yet intersecting. Beautiful and unusual is the graphic-novel version (Feltrinelli, 2018) of La Mennulara, a collaboration between artist Massimo Fenati and author Simonetta Agnello Hornby; the original novel by Agnello Hornby is available in English as The Almond Picker (Penguin, 2006). Jhumpa Lahiri has written Dove mi trovo (Guanda, 2018) in Italian; the sparse literary style underscores the predicament of her central character, a woman longing at once for connection and detachment. Issued in 2018 with an introduction by Rachel Cusk, The Little Virtues (Daunt Books, 2018) is a collection of essays penned between 1944 and 1960 by Natalia Ginzburg, one of Italy’s greatest writers; each essay gives us a portrayal of a historical time we should not forget, as well as a wealth of timeless reflections.
I hope you enjoyed our recommendations. What was your favourite book that you read in 2018? We’d love to hear from you.
Gail Aldwin is a poet and fiction writer. Her collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt is available now from Chapeltown Books. Her new novel The String Games will be published in 2019 by Victorina Press.
Sandy Bennet Haber is an Edinburgh based Australian writer and the editor of You Won’t Remember This — Travel With Babies and contributor to Waymaking a new anthology of women’s adventure writing, poetry and art.
Lynn Davidson is a poet, creative writing teacher and researcher. Her poems have been published widely, the most recent of which is a poem series entitled Return to Kāpiti Island (House of Three, 2017).
Maria Donovan is the author of The Chicken Soup Murder (Seren Books).
Rita Gould is a US-based writer, editor, and avid reader. In addition to writing short fiction and poetry, she blogs about writing and reading at An Artful Sequence of Words where you can find reviews of some of her recommendations.
Helen Taylor, author of The Backstreets of Purgatory
Valeria Vescina is a writer, creative writing tutor and reviewer. Her novel That Summer in Puglia was published in 2018 by Eyewear Publishing
Women Writers Network