French Friday: There Is No Universal Female Story

A year ago, the early days of October gave birth to the #MeToo movement, here in the U.S., then followed by other nations, France being one of them.

A year later, it is clear that the movement is not a fade.

The recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has proved how deeply divided the American people are on issues related to women, including women themselves.

Truth is: there is no universal female story.

Which is why I have for the last year purposely read novels written by women about girls and women.

My three favorites walk the line between YA and adult readerships. Following their date of publication:

 

The Girls by Emma Cline (2016)

2016 saw many novels with “girl” being part of the title. Remember Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train?

The Girls by Emma Cline remains for me the most memorable. From its publication in June, I saw its cover in every bookstore across the country. Set in Northern California at the end of the 1960s, it is an extraordinary well-written story that won’t leave female readers indifferent. Although the plot can only remind of the Manson Family the book is a work of fiction. Through Evie Boyd, a lonely, sometimes naïve but also very thoughtful teenager the author explores girls’ vulnerability and strength. First drawn to a group of girls who live on a sprawling ranch deserted hills Evie becomes quickly obsessed with an older girl. Without realizing that she’s stepped in a cult led by a charismatic man Evie who wants so badly to belong falls headfirst. The novel takes off, leading to unstoppable violence that illustrates with poignant accuracy how a moment in a girl’s life can go horribly wrong. Even though a lot has happened for girls and women between 1969 and 2016, this novel remains a timeless moving realistic portrait of girlhood and womanhood.

 

 

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud (2017)

Probably the best recent novel about these unique years when girls tiptoe into adolescence and leave their childhood behind. Claire Messud explores the strong bonds between two girls who meet at the age of four and remain friends until their road split and they stop being friends toward the end of high school. Messud is a very skilled author who has penned several other memorable novels. Her writing style is sparse, but she tells so much in so few words. I was in constant awe. Although Julie, the main character, is a girl (mostly shown from the age of 12 to college application time) The Burning Girl is not a typical YA novel. I would, however, recommend it to high school girls who love the English language and want to understand themselves a little bit better. I found bits of younger me in this story, although I lived my adolescence in France and not in New England and was a teen during the late 70s and not in the 21st century. With wisdom and heart Messud captures the turbulent and yet sometimes so quiet moments when we girls become so aware of the unstoppable changes that affect us as we grow up. A slim book I read very quickly for the psychological thrill but read twice after to relish the many details and layers. A masterpiece.

 

Marlena by Julie Buntin (2017)

My daughter gave me this novel for my birthday last year and I still thank her. Skillfully told between past and present this is another friendship story between two girls. Cat, the main character, moves to a small rural Michigan town with her mother and brother and feels quite lonely. This is probably why she is immediately so attracted to her enigmatic, gorgeous next-door neighbor Marlena. Soon drawn to Marlena’s circle Cat witnesses her new friend’s unstoppable fall into drugs. Within a year Marlena is found dead in icy waters. Cat bears the responsibility since she didn’t act, even though she knew more was going on inside Marlena’s house and life. Decades later, a ghost from this troubled period suddenly reappears. Cat is forced to reopen the past and to reexamine her memories of Marlena. Gorgeously written, Julie Buntin offers yet another haunting tale about female adolescence, those crucial emotional years that shape us for better and worse.

 

Although there is no universal female story, fiction has the power to bring different stories to the front stage and I hope generate in turn less judgment and more empathy.

Now your turn:

Have you read memorable, challenging and yet life-affirming adult novels written by female authors that depict young girls just before womanhood?

Lisant davantage de romans contemporains écrits en anglais américain, dites moi si la France a aussi vu une explosion de romans pour adultes écrits par des femmes avec des adolescentes pour personnages principaux.

 

 

Comments

  1. There is no universal story, but there are universal parallels and rhymings — and a lot of it is guilt. We may not have the same experiences, yet we are all besieged by guilt.

    Are men wracked by guilt? I wonder.

    • Until recently I would have fully agreed with you, Marilyn. I had always instinctively sided with any girl and woman. Exactly for the reason you give. Based on the recent hostility from some women against others, I felt torn. Then again, I had to ponder what you write about guilt. A very valid point, for sure. Thank you for adding your opinion.

  2. I was a Maeve Binchy fan – you’re possibly familiar with her Evelyne? Her early books in particular, written in the 1980s, explored the stories of young women in Ireland – the naïve country types, the harder, cigarette-smoking Dubliners. She had (still has) a heap of fans, not all of them female 🙂

    • Thank you, Roy for mentioning Maeve Binchy. I have not read her as widely as others, but I agree that she offers a great sample of female experiences through her prolific writing. And yes, absolutely, men can also dig women’s literature 🙂

    • Thank you for mentioning Maeve Binchy, Roy. I’ve not read her as widely as other female writers, more likely because in the 80s I was living in France and more inclined to read French writers. But I agree with you that Binchy offers a vast palette of female experiences through her prolific writing. And I love it when men dig female authors 🙂

  3. I have two women friends that were sucked into cults, Evelyne. Both bright and incredibly capable. To this day, I have often wondered about the forces that led them down the paths they followed. –Curt

    • The book The Girls depicts very well the phenomenon, Curt. It’s quite easy to understnad why very young lonely girls without familial support can fall into a cult. Much more troubling when a bright otherwise capable girl joins the ranks. It’s a great read because of the topic but also because the writing is exceptionally gorgeous. One of my most favorite books since its publication. Happy fall, Curt.

  4. Too true that this is the power of fiction Evelyne, to let us experience the universal parts of lives that are different.

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