May’s book list: Wild women

In the Stevie Nicks song “Wild Heart,” Stevie sings about a love affair gone sour, the aftershocks of heartache and the confusion of colliding with a person as fragile as oneself. Stevie seems to implore the listener to “don’t blame it on me, blame it on my wild heart”. However, to read this as a request would be a mistake. Stevie’s woman simply knows who she is; to accept her is to accept her wandering, restless spirit. While she is perhaps inexplicable and mystifying, her restlessness and wildness allow her to endure. Below are several novels about “wild women”.

 

After Claude

Iris Owens

Owens’ main character Harriet is irascible and baffling, but always honest. Harriet is the friend whose friendship you sometimes question. She’s obstinate, intractable and perhaps a bit crazy. However, she is never afraid to say what is on her mind or nudge any uncomfortable elephants in the room. We meet Harriet as she is being kicked out of her boyfriend’s Greenwich Village apartment. Or, as Harriet describes it, she may be leaving the “French rat,” but will stick around and call him out for his louche behavior. As Harriet’s behavior escalates and her filter remains non-existent, people don’t know how to handle her. This raises the important question: why does a woman need to be handled?

 

Two Serious Ladies

Jane Bowles

During Bowles’ life, her work was routinely overshadowed by that of her husband, Paul Bowles. She only wrote one novel, Two Serious Ladies. The novel itself centres on the exploits of Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield in their intersecting quests in becoming “serious”. Both women are odd and indecipherable, but they share Bowles’ own belief that only they can save themselves.

 

The Dud Avocado

Elaine Dundy

The Dud Avocado has been called “Daisy Miller’s Revenge” – a reference to the book’s similarities to a short story by Henry James. While James’ sprightly heroine unceremoniously dies near the end of the story, Dundy’s Sally Jay goes forth to survive and thrive. Sally Jay Gorce is an American girl in Paris; a perennial fish out of water. She has her share of stumbles (disasterous love affairs, regrettable drunken decisions, murderous hangovers), but every stumble is accompanied by a zest for the simple act of living and making mistakes. We all root for Sally and when she wins, so do we!

wild women

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante

Book one of the Neopolitan Trilogy

Ferrante’s Neopolitan Trilogy centres on the lifelong friendship of Elena and Lila in post-war Italy. The story begins in the girls’ adulthood, with Elena attempting to make sense of Lila’s self-imposed disappearance. Never before My Brilliant Friend have I read an author who so accurately depicts the trials, jealousies, loves and obssessions of female friendship. We are taken through the girls’ early years, as Elena is jealous of Lila’s academic success and apparent ease in navigating puberty. The roles are soon reversed when Elena is offered the opportunity to continue her studies and Lila is married off to a wealthy suitor. Ferrante couples the girls’ interwoven journeys with a minute level of detail in terms of the characters that populate Elena and Lila’s childhoods. Ferrante captures what it feels like to be young and possess an overwhelming need for another person.

 

Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Antoinette Cosway will soon become the mad wife in the attic. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Antoinette was named Bertha and the source of Edward Rochester’s pain and secrecy. However, she can not be neatly simplified as the crazy woman locked away by her grieving husband. Before Antionette married Edward Rochester, she was a young woman in Jamaica with thoughts, feelings and a life of her own. Unfortunately, the state which defines Antoinette’s early years, and most of her life, is isolation. Antoinette is a wealthy creole woman. She is not accepted by those native to Jamaica and is exoticised and objectified by the wealthy Englishman she will marry. Antoinette is a wanderer by necessity, a woman never truly at home in a world marked by colonialism that wishes to ignore her existence.

 

Green Girl

Kate Zambreno

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the doomed Ophelia’s father tells her, “you speak like a green girl, unsifted in such perilous circumstances”. Such sentiment also holds true for Zambreno’s titular green girl, Ruth. Ruth is a pretty American girl working at Harrod’s Department Store in London. She is nervous, passive and completely overwhelmed. While at first I found myself thinking Ruth to be a bit frustrating as a character, obtuse and lacking interiority, I realised that I too can be frustrating, confusing and confused. We can all be green girls.

Words: Annette Lepique
Image: Tracy Ryan

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