Women have held a central role in publishing and as a target audience for books for years. But now everyone seems to be waking up to the fact that they write better than most men as well. Two articles on the subject below:
This upsurge in commercial success and critical acclaim is not just the preserve of Irish women, of course. In 2019 the Booker Prize was awarded to two women (that the award was split between Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo was a disappointingly lazy cop-out from the judges and no comment on the inimitable talents of either author). And so too this year the Booker Prize longlist contains just four men out of the total 13. Women’s domination of the literary landscape seems all but complete. But of course it raises the question: Why? And why now?
In light of the Booker Prize longlist this year, deputy books editor at The Times of London James Marriott asked: “Where are the new male hotshot novelists?” It seems likely that the answer to his question would too contain the answer to mine. And to an extent, it does.
Of course, women’s lives have always been dominated by the needs of others. Surveys of the division of labour during the lockdown revealed – to the surprise of nobody – that women still ended up performing the vast majority of housework and caring duties. Women writers, no less today than in my grandmother’s day, must find a way of working amid all this noise, and they do. Anne Lamott famously said that, before she had a child, she couldn’t write if there were dishes in the sink – but afterwards she could write if there was a corpse in the sink. Christine Dwyer-Hickey, the winner of this year’s Walter Scott prize for her novel The Narrow Land, believes that being a housewife is the best scenario for a writer, because you use your time with great economy. Edna O’Brien worked while her children scribbled her notes and pushed them under the door. It has always been thus.
O’Brien was the Sally Rooney of her day, the first Irish woman writer to become a star both critically and commercially. First published in 1960, The Country Girls is a novel whose success was richly deserved, but quality alone was never enough to guarantee a woman writer a hearing. It was the novel’s scandalous theme – sex – that made all the noise. Women’s writing was more often dismissed as “quiet”, a label long attached to my Grandmother’s work. Curious to find out if this label was deserved, I recently set myself the task of reading through her entire body of work – more than 100 stories – and was amazed by what I found.