11 Novels About Angry Women Who Don't Deserve To Be Called "Unlikeable"
Called shrill, hysterical, alienating, emotional, irrational, crazy, unhinged — angry women are unwelcome in life and in literature. If young women have learned anything in the last two years — from the events leading up to the 2016 election through the explosion of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — it’s that if angry women want to claim their rightful place in the national conversation, then they're going to have to take it kicking, screaming, and raging. No longer can women be deterred by the narrative that angry women (or angry fictional narrators) are unlikable — rather, women must recognize that narrative as a strategy that has been used to keep angry women silent for generations.
When I first started looking for my own furious feminist icons in literature, what I found were angry women who functioned as cautionary tales: Carrie White, Anna Karenina, Dolores Haze, Hester Prynne. The kinds of stories that say: these are the fates that befall women who let their anger get the best of them. But soon, I found other women: Amy Dunne, Olive Kitteridge, Nora Eldridge, Mireille Duval Jameson, whose anger — complex and raw and terrifying — took on immense power. And these are the women we need to see more of: those unafraid to fan the flames of their anger, in life and in literature.
Here are 11 novels that explore — and totally respect — women’s anger.
'Mean' by Myriam Gurba
A spectacularly genre-blending memoir, Mean tells the coming-of-age story of Myriam Gurba: a queer, mixed-race Chicana who is as hilarious as she is edgy. In vivid and unflinching prose, Gurba looks at sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and speaks out for women who aren’t afraid to be feisty and angry and mean.
'The Woman Upstairs' by Claire Messud
Tacking on the archetype of “the madwoman in the attic”, Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs is a fiery novel — one that begins with the words: “How angry am I? You don't want to know.” Nora Eldridge is a woman who is pissed-the-f-off and isn’t afraid who knows it. Single, dealing with the death of her mother, eerily enthralled with her new neighbors, and deeply resentful of the artistic life that wasn’t hers to be realized.
'The Days of Abandonment' by Elena Ferrante
The mysterious Elena Ferrante is known for writing real, relatable, imperfect, and angry women — and though she’s best recognized for the ladies of her Neapolitan Novels, her slim, 2005 novel, The Days of Abandonment tells the story of one of the angriest women she’s written. Ferrante’s narrator, Olga, has been abandoned by her spouse and becomes literally trapped in the apartment she shares with her two children — a metaphor for her contained rage, her feelings of suffocation, and her experience of being infuriatingly left behind to pick up the pieces of someone else’s mess.
'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn
“Evil Amy” Dunne might be the most recognized angry antihero in contemporary fiction. And she’s the reason readers couldn’t stop frantically dishing about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for MONTHS after it hit bookstore shelves. There is just something ridiculously exciting about Flynn’s plot twist — and no matter how evil Amy got, you couldn’t help but root for her.
'An Untamed State' by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State is a furious, painful, and difficult novel — but one that reads like it had to be written. When Mireille Duval Jameson is kidnapped while on vacation with her husband and children — and her wealthy father refuses to pay her ransom — Mireille is subject to unimaginable torture at the hands of her kidnappers; suffering that is only matched by the psychological torture she endures once she returns home.
'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout
Oh, Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth Strout’s disgruntled narrator was my first experience with what many would call an “unlikable female protagonist” — and even as a graduate student who had read shelves and shelves full of books, I found her so uncommon she shocked me. A retired schoolteacher struggling with a world that seems to be leaving her behind, Olive still manages to invite a fair amount of drama into her life: feeling anger, despair, frustration, jealousy, loss, and also joy and love.
'The Power' by Naomi Alderman
The Power by Naomi Alderman is set in a world that is, for all intents and purposes, no different from ours. Except for one thing: teenage girls suddenly have unparalleled physical power — more than anyone else on earth. But with that power, comes other kinds of power: the kinds of power women have fought for, for centuries. This novel imagines a world where traditional gender roles can be subverted, and women are free to think and speak and act without worrying about their physical safety.
'The Book of Joan' by Lidia Yuknavitch
Set in a post-apocalyptic, above-earth space station, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan reimagines the story of Joan of Arc through two characters: Joan of Dirt, who is still fighting for the abandoned earth and Christine Pizan, who is fighting the space station’s dictator in the sky. This novel is filled with women’s rage — the kind that propels them to not only save their lives, but to just maybe save their world.
'Problems' by Jade Sharma
For a novel about addiction, an eating disorder, infidelity, a failing marriage, and floundering in work and in academia, Problems by Jade Sharma is surprisingly spirited. At the center of it all is Maya — a woman whose anger at her underwhelming life sits at a slow simmer from beginning to end. Maya knows she’s not doing so well — by her own standards, and the world’s — but she’ll get around to doing something about it in her own time. And that's why readers love her.
'Housekeeping' by Marilynne Robinson
Although one of the more underrated of Marilynne Robinson’s novels — relatively speaking — Housekeeping tells the story of two orphaned sisters, Ruth and Lucille Stone, and the once-nomadic aunt Sylvie they live with on the remote lakeside of Fingerbone, Idaho. While Ruth gravitates towards Sylvie — her sleeping on the lawn, wandering around in a haze — Lucille wants to escape everything her Idaho life has to offer (aka: not much). But her newfound distance has grave consequences for Ruth and Sylvie who, growing evermore eccentric together, are threatened with separation and burn down their own house, disappearing into the lake.
'Me and Mr Booker' by Cory Taylor
Sixteen-year-old Martha is filled with the kind of restless anger that has become almost a cliché rite of passage for anyone growing up in a suburb, anywhere. From witnessing her parents’ tumultuous relationship to feeling alienated in high school, Martha seeks refuge in the life of the Booker family — particularly Mr. Booker, whose wife caps her day off with hours of alcohol-induced unconsciousness. Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor reads like a retelling of Lolita, only Martha seems much more in control than Dolores Haze ever was allowed to be.