Saturday, 24 February 2018

Penguin Women Writers

I'm all about championing women's voices, and the voices of marginalised people - those whose stories are forgotten or lost in a sea of mainstream. When I saw that Penguin were bringing back 'four neglected classics' to mark 100 years of the vote for (some) women, I knew I wanted to get involved. I think it's important to remember all the women who have contributed to history and literature and the world, and if this marks the start of us unearthing other women who might have been forgotten somehow, then that's amazing.

The four books, chosen by Penelope Lively and Kamila Shamsie, are so vastly different to each other - each incredible in different ways. Lively and Shamsie have written introductions for each book, talking about how important they are and the impact, however small, that they have had and will continue, now, to have. They each chose two of the books, and I think, personally, they did a top job.

The Lark written by E. Nesbit and chosen by Penelope Lively, is a forgotten adult novel; of course you won't meet many people who haven't heard of The Railway Children or Five Children and It, but not a lot of people know much about her offerings for older generations. The Lark is about two cousins, their inheritance gambled away, trying to make their way in the world; it is a typically British story about trial and error, about independence, about affection.

Lively's other choice was Birds of America by Mary McCarthy which is about 17 y/o Peter dealing with the Vietnam war, and with commercialism, tourism and the environment, too. Penelope Lively points out that parallels can be drawn between this book, and the world we live in right now - it highlights issues that are familiar to us, that we can relate to, and that makes it a brilliant choice for this collection. A woman writing in the 70s about things that now, in 2018, we can get.

Kamila Shamsie chose books that are well known in other parts of the world, but mostly unheard of in the U.K - I like that, because there are so many incredible writers all over the planet and it's so interesting to see the perspectives of people who aren't like you. The first of the two is Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chughtai, who is Urdu. The book is actually a collection of short stories and essays; one of the stories led to her being put on trial for obscenity, and the essay she wrote about this experience is also included in the book. It's so fascinating to be able to easily access the things that have happened to women like Ismat - this, to me, is what makes the Penguin Women Writers collection so important.

The last book of the four, also chosen by Shamsie, is a kind-of memoir by Sara Suleri called Meatless Days which is a stream of consciousness, framed by the deaths of her mother and her sister; it is, typically, about grief and about love but also about postcolonial Pakistan and migration, about history and politics. Again, to be able to understand the world through the eyes of someone on the other side of the world, on another side of the fight, is amazing.

So they're the four books; I'm most excited to read Lifting the Veil, but I'm looking forward to reading all of them, honestly. Hats off to Penguin for amplifying women's voices in such an exciting way and while we all know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, I have to say I love these ones. Let me know if you've read any of these or are planning to, and if you have any other favourite female authors please share! You can get the Penguin Women Writers collection on Waterstones and on Amazon too.

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard any of these writers but it's so amazing that Penguin is celebrating the neglected classics from women writers :) xx

    Yasmina | The July Journal