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8 Books Where the Women Take Up Space

A recommended reading list by author of the new novel The Lost Chapter.

Book Cover the Lost Chapter

My novel The Lost Chapter is a story about women: their worries, their desires, their hopes and their struggles, and the way that female friendship can see us through most things in life. So here are a few other books where female protagonists take centre stage.


Book Cover Room

Room, by Emma Donoghue

The narrator of this book is a young boy, locked in a room with his mother in what transpires to be horrific circumstances. It’s a shocking story, at times hard to read, but what’s so clever about it is the way Donoghue so brilliantly portrays the emotional turmoil of the mother through the eyes of this small boy who doesn’t understand the true nature of their lives. Through him we see this woman feel despair, hope, terror and determination, and above all we understand the complicated love she has for her son.


Book Cover The STone Carvers

The Stone Carvers, by Jane Urquhart

My mum, who was born Canadian, as opposed to naturalised like me, gave me this book to read a long time ago, but I still remember how moving I found it. What stands out to me most in this multi-layered, multi-timeline novel is the character of Klara, the granddaughter of a master woodcarver, who fights to be taught the skill of carving along with her reluctant brother. Despite her superior skills, she must disguise herself as a man to be able to work on the Vimy Ridge memorial to Canadian soldiers lost in WWI, where she disobeys orders to carve the face of her lost love into the memorial.


Book Cover the Girls

The Girls, by Lori Lansens

If we’re talking about female friendship, there can be no greater—or more complicated—bond than the one between conjoined twins who must live every moment of their lives together. The Girls is another book I read a long time ago, but it has stayed with me for its poignant, clever, at times funny and utterly heart-wrenching depiction of two sisters, Rose and Ruby, who share a bond like no other.


Book Cover the Penelopiad

The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood

This was a pick by someone in my book club, and possibly I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, but I’m so glad I did. A retelling of the Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope—the good wife left behind while her husband Odysseus went to war—and her hanged maids, it’s darkly witty, unusually structured and puts the focus firmly on women...who are as devious, clever and forceful as the men.


Book Cover A Town Calld Solace

A Town Called Solace, by Mary Lawson

Lawson writes so evocatively of Northern Ontario and the large events that shape the lives of her multiple small-town characters. For me, it’s Elizabeth who really strikes a chord. Her quiet yet powerful story tells of a woman drowning in grief, who makes a mistake that upends her life—yet she survives, and on her deathbed gives a profound, life-changing gift to the person who unknowingly changed her own. The last line of the novel is just perfect.


Book Cover The Stone Diaries

The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields                                                       

In The Stone Diaries, Shields cleverly charts the changing 20th century through the life story of one Daisy Goodwill, from birth to death. Told mainly from the perspective of people around her, rather than the woman herself—her father, her friends, her husband, her children—the story has an intriguing ambiguity. It’s left to the reader to decide if Daisy is a strong woman who made the best decisions in difficult circumstances, or if she is simply buffeted about by society and other people. Perhaps, like all of us, a bit of both.


Book Cover Looking for Jane

Looking For Jane, by Heather Marshall

I knew little of the fight for reproductive rights in Canada (I grew up in the UK) so reading this story of an underground, female-led network offering illegal but safe abortions was fascinating. Yet it’s the strong female characters who really make the story: Evelyn, the doctor whose own tumultuous background pushes her to fight for other women to have the rights she didn’t; Nancy, the young woman who has to work out what she wants from life; and Angela, negotiating her own relationship to impending motherhood in a modern world that still has improvements to make with regards women’s rights. It’s a particularly timely read, with abortion again making headlines in the US.


Book Cover the Push

The Push, by Ashley Audrain

At times an uncomfortable, challenging read, The Push intelligently depicts a woman’s myriad conflicting feelings towards motherhood. Main character Blythe’s desire for a child is complicated by her own, fraught experiences of being mothered, while her bond with her daughter vies with her need to be more than just a parent. I love that way that Audrain allows Blythe to be real and human, at odds with the "perfect" mothers she sees around her. That, coupled with a narrative that is never clear cut, creates a story that left me thinking about it long after I’d finished it.


Book Cover the Lost Chapter

Learn more about The Lost Chapter:

A timeless tale of female friendship and past secrets, set in modern-day small-town England and a 1950s finishing school in France—for readers of Joanna Goodman and Santa Montefiore.

England, present day. At eighty years old, Florence Carter is content with her life. A widow in her twilight years, she spends her days making intricate lino prints in the company of her dog and cat, and her neighbour’s daughter Alice, a shy young woman troubled by a recent trauma. But when ​Flo learns that a long-lost friend has written a novel based on their time at finishing school, she’s forced to confront a secret from her past...

France, 1957. In post-war Lyon, Florence and Lilli meet at a strict finishing school for girls. Florence—or Flo as she’s known—is a demure young Englishwoman who is expected to enter society and make a good marriage. Lilli, meanwhile, is a brash American with an independent spirit and thirst for adventure. Despite their differences, they forge a firm friendship that promises to last a lifetime—until a terrible betrayal tears them apart.

Now, as Flo reads Lilli’s book, she struggles to separate fact from fiction. Desperate for answers, she decides to take a road trip to France to find Lilli, and she invites Alice and her mother Carla to join her, in hopes the change of scenery will lift their spirits. But when they reach Lyon, it’s Flo who needs help as the buried truth from long ago threatens to overwhelm her.

The Lost Chapter is a poignant novel about the power of friendship and a beautiful reminder that it’s never too late to start writing a different story.

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