Forget girl in the title, let’s have some women!

I refuse to read books with girl in the title. The titles have become a warning of a genre I will not enjoy – girl fiction. I was reminded of my dislike of the term girls for grown women during the recent world athletics championships when all female contestants were referred to as girls. I ask myself whether we won the battle not to be addressed as ladies (which most of us are not) only to be referred to as girls. Let’s reclaim women and woman for titles. And here are eight titles to start with. And I’ve included one exception to the no-girls-in-the-title rule.

  1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

We start with a classic whose title doesn’t work if you substitute girl for woman. The girl in white. You have lost a crucial ‘w’.

It is an early detective novel with a terrible villain, Fosco. Wilkie Collins was drawing attention to the practice of confining awkward women to mental institutions in Victorian Britain. It’s still a good read.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859)

And here are two novels whose titles remind you that women are always close at hand.

  1. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

This is the story of two women in the new South Africa who, despite being neighbours and of a similar age, can hardly speak to each other and their animosities shape their lives until one becomes dependent upon the other. I included this in the older woman in fiction series. You can read my review here.

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, Vintage (2016)

  1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

This is any woman, angry and isolated. She adopts the Shahid family when they move to Boston, and feels deserted when they leave. Is her reaction over the top or has she been betrayed and exploited by each member of the family?

I reviewed it in March 2016 and you can read that review here.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, Virago (2013)

  1. Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Christine Delius

A nameless young woman walks from her protestant convent in Rome in 1946 to a church to hear a concert. The signs of war going badly, shortages, threat of bombs are everywhere, as is the presence of the German army. She is German, and eight months pregnant. Her husband has been sent to the North African front despite being wounded. She becomes aware of the monstrousness of the world in which she is caught up.

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Christine Delius, Peirene (2010) translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

  1. Woman at Point Zero Nawal el Saadawi

Many women have tough lives and none come tougher than this Egyptian woman who has nothing left to loose. I recently included this novel for the 1970s in the Decades Project series on my blog and you can read my comments here.

Woman at Point Zero Nawal el Saadawi, first published in 1975 and in translation by Zed Books in 1983. Translated from the Arabic by Sherif Hetata.

  1. The Revenge of the Middle-aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan.

A woman is dumped by her husband for her younger friend, who takes her job and her home as well as her husband. Rose’s revenge is to make a better life for herself than her erring husband and friend manage. The hurt and pain of the betrayal remains but Rose realises that those years with her husband and children cannot be taken from her.

The Revenge of the Middle-aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan, Penguin (2002)

  1. The Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

Another Arabic woman, this time from Lebanon, single and no longer young. Aaliya collects and translates European books despite the troubled times in Beirut. Her situation improves when she accidentally dyes her hair blue and the plumbing in her ancient flat gives up. This novel was also included in my older women in fiction series here.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine published in the UK by Corsair (2013)

  1. Writing a Woman’s Life by Carolyn G Heilbrun

This short book is non-fiction. It explores the ways in which women give accounts of their lives, both literally and unconsciously. It asks the question what influences the way a woman thinks she should lead her life. I reviewed this several years ago but it remains one of my most-read posts. You can read it here.

There are four ways to write a woman’s life; the woman herself may tell it, in what she chooses to call an autobiography; she may tell it in what she chooses to call fiction; a biographer, woman or man, may write the woman’s life in what is called a biography; or the woman may write the woman’s life in advance of living it, unconsciously, and without recognising or naming the process. (p11)

Writing a Woman’s Life by Carolyn G Heilbrun, Norton (1988)

And here is the exception to the girl in the title rule.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

This novel was the winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014. It is narrated in the brilliant harsh inner voice of an Irish girl. Her life is shaped by the misfortunes of her family and by the abuse she experiences and she takes on as she descends into self-loathing. The final line of the novel is ‘My name is gone.’ Her identity has been subsumed in the awfulness of her life. The voice is jagged, speaks in incomplete sentences, confused (words, sentences, capitals and lower case letters) when being beaten up. It’s hard to read but worth it.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride, Faber & Faber (2013)

Over to you

I am sure I have missed lots of books with woman in the title. My daughter spotted one and she has promised to add it in the comments. How about you?

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Filed under Books, Feminism

14 Responses to Forget girl in the title, let’s have some women!

  1. How about The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year by the late great Sue Townsend. Deserves to be part of the list because you can’t substitute girl for woman here…girl would suggest a very different kind of novel (And although ST will probably always be remembered for her Adrian Mole books, her novel about the Royal Family living on a council estate deserves a special mention.)

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this contribution. I still haven’t got round to reading The Woman who went to Bed for a Year, despite being given it some time ago. You’re right. It should be included! Thanks

  2. Morag

    Looking at my bookshelves, I have more books with “penguin” in the title than “woman”!
    There’s Susan Hills – The Woman in Black and Barbara Pym – Excellent Women. You have sent me off on an intriguing hunt. Lots of books with women’s names in the title – or their role as mother, daughter, bride etc. I suppose there’s always Fanny Hill – who is reduced to a commodity.

    • Caroline

      How intriguing – penguins. More books with penguins than woman?
      And thanks for these good additions to my Women in Titles list.


  3. Eileen

    It was because of your strongly held views on this subject that I suggested Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler for you to consider for the 2010 decade series of reviews. But the irony might have been too subtle.

    • Caroline

      Hi Eileen,
      Ah irony. I may yet surprise you!
      But I also have an aversion to adaptations, and I understand this is a Kiss me Kate/The Taming of the Shrew adaptation and what’s more the idea of taming shrews (women as well as animals) is also repugnant. Maybe I should just read it! She is such a good writer after all, Anne Tyler.
      Caroline xx

  4. How I agree with you. I offer, The Woman Who Walked Into doors by Roddy Doyle. My ‘exception’ is The Roanoke Girls – they really are girls & the book is so good I can forgive the title!
    I also have an aversion to covers with ‘girls’ walking away from the camera so we don’t see their faces. #FacelessGirls
    And what’s with the flapping red coats??? #AttentionSeekingGirls

    • Caroline

      Covers, don’t get me started on girlie covers! Red coats, faceless girls.
      Thanks for adding these two recommendations, Carol. I don’t know either of them, although I have heard of both.
      Hope you will visit again soon.

  5. Morag

    Returning, briefly, to penguins. One of my favourite off beat reads ever – Death and the Penguin by Andrei Kurkov – a very bleak black comedy set in post Soviet Ukraine. It features an obituary writer and his pet penguin, Mischa – not to be confused with his owner’s friend – Mischa Non-Penguin. It’s a hoot. The sequel – Penguin Lost, isn’t so original or so funny.

    • Caroline

      I wondered if Death and the Penguin would be one of your chosen novels. I enjoyed it immensely, but don’t seem to have my copy still.


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