These women are out for blood
Step into your feral, unhinged reading era
From a young age, women are taught to repress negative emotions. Hide our tears so they don’t call us emotional; speak like Disney princesses so we seem affable, swallow our anger for the sake of keeping the peace… But every now and then, those bottled-up emotions make like Mentos in a Pepsi bottle. The past few years have seen this frustration and anger spill out into the streets, charge online debate and be reflected in literature. Whether it’s patriarchal gender roles, the wage gap, sexual harassment in the workplace or laws that deny us agency over our own bodies, we often feel like we’re not the main characters in our own stories. While you may not take up a career in vigilantism or hit up every street protest in town, there’s a way to release those tumultuous emotions we’ve struggled with at some point — by living vicariously through books about female rage.
Filled with violence, gore and all the swear words we’re told are unladylike, these books about female rage scratch a very particular itch.
When you need an outlet for your frustrations, seek solace in the anti-heroine who’s been wronged by systemic injustices that persist under the guise of ‘tradition,’ while those who could make a difference shrug their shoulders and offer feeble excuses.
This list of books about female rage is for the ones who have fantasised about having a Carrie prom moment and know Amy from Gone Girl’s ‘cool girl’ monologue by heart. Or those who have felt a tinge of the unhinged and want to live vicariously through female characters who will go to any lengths to get what they want – no matter whom they trample on, burn out, or, well, eat along the way. Get ready for a catharsis.
15 books about female rage for a blood-filled joyride
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
A dark and introspective novel set in the 1960s, we dive into the life of Eileen Dunlop, a young woman working as a secretary in a boys’ correctional facility.
Eileen is a socially isolated and deeply unhappy young woman. She is burdened by her troubled relationship with her alcoholic father, who lives with her in a squalid house. Eileen’s daily routine consists of caring for her father’s needs, enduring her monotonous job, and fantasising about escaping her dreary existence.
However, her life turns unexpectedly when a new counsellor, Rebecca, arrives at the correctional facility. Eileen becomes captivated by Rebecca’s confidence, beauty, and seemingly carefree lifestyle. As their friendship develops, Eileen becomes increasingly infatuated with Rebecca, seeing her as a symbol of escape from her miserable existence.
Driven by a desire for transformation and an opportunity to break free from her stifling life, Eileen gets entangled in a plan that will test the boundaries of her morality.
Moshfegh’s raw and suspenseful writing explores themes of identity, isolation, and the complexities of the human psyche, creating quite an unsettling reading experience.
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
Geeta is known as a ‘self-made widow’ in her village. Everyone fears her because they think she killed her abusive, alcoholic husband – he abandoned her and ran off.
She tried to deny it but eventually gave in, embracing the reputation of being fearsome in society, which also helps her jewellery business pick up as customers don’t want to get on this ‘powerful sorceress’s’ bad side.
Geeta’s also part of a micro-loan women’s group where they still fear yet dismiss her for being a childless widow, AKA an incomplete woman.
But soon, the women come knocking on her door to help them get rid of their good-for-nothing, oppressive husbands – each more abusive and heinous than the other.
Shroff explores weighty subjects such as caste, class, patriarchy, societal biases against childless women, arranged marriage, abusive relationships, and the absence of women’s rights within deeply rooted customs and superstitions. United in their determination, the women join forces to defy the constraints imposed upon them.
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Sofia accompanies her mother, Rose, to a clinic in southern Spain in search of a cure for her mysterious and debilitating paralysis. As Sofia cares for her mother, she confronts her desires, ambitions, and unresolved issues. Throughout the novel, Sofia grapples with her sense of self and the constraints that have held her back.
She navigates her complicated relationship with her mother, who oscillates between complete dependence and control. As Sofia encounters various characters and experiences, including a charismatic local man named Juan, she begins questioning her path and her sacrifices. We get to explore themes of power dynamics, thorny mother-daughter relationships, responsibilities and personal freedom. At the core of it all is mothering, or lack thereof, and the search for one’s identity.
Medea by Euripides
Euripides’ play is among the oldest and most iconic stories of female rage. The play is based in the Greek city of Corinth. Jason is on the hunt for the coveted golden fleece, and being of divine descent, Medea uses her powers to help him. The pair settle and have two sons, but in pursuit of a higher station, Jason deserts Medea to marry the daughter of King Creon of Corinth.
Consumed by rage and a desire for revenge, Medea plots a series of ruthless punishments. Medea is a complex character, hesitant at first but determined to destroy Jason before he begins his happy new life. She goes full scorched-earth, even if the embers fall on her own children.
Euripides delves into the complexities of Medea’s character as a strong-willed, formidable woman who refuses to accept her fate silently. The play’s exploration of her struggle with her emotions and the societal expectations placed upon her as a woman raises profound questions about the nature of justice, the lengths one is willing to go to seek revenge and the devastating consequences of unchecked fury.
Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi
The book’s protagonist, Bella, is an ordinary woman who woke up one day and chose violence. After being stalked and harassed by a neighbour for weeks with no one intervening or coming to her aid, Bella decides she has had enough.
Fueled by frustration and anger, Bella takes matters into her own hands, embarking on a killing spree, targeting abusive and misogynistic men who have wronged her or other women. She becomes a vigilante figure, striking fear in the hearts of those who prey on the vulnerable; the hunter in a world where she sees justice repeatedly failing those in need.
Published in 1991, there are aspects of this book regarding race and sexuality that haven’t aged well. But for survivors of harassment and abuse, it’s is a quick read where can you indulge your violent revenge fantasies.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Imagine a world where women develop the ability to release electric jolts from their fingertips. The axis of the world shifts, and women are becoming the ones in charge in this science fiction novel.
We follow the lives of Allie, a young woman who escapes an abusive home and becomes the central figure of a new religious movement; streetwise Roxy, who uses her newfound power to protect herself and her loved ones; Margot, a politician, who rises to power in a male-dominated world by using her abilities, and Tunde, a male journalist, documenting the changing world as he witnesses the power struggle between men and women firsthand.
As the novel unfolds, the balance of power gradually shifts, and societal norms are upended. The book explores how power can corrupt individuals and examines how those once oppressed might become oppressors themselves. Through the protagonists’ actions, we get to analyse the complexities of gender dynamics, social structures, and the implications of power on personal relationships, politics, and religion.
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
Scarlett Clark is a college professor fed up with the rampant sexual assaults on her campus and the lack of consequences for the perpetrators. Driven to protect other women from the predatory actions of the men around them, Scarlett embarks on a secret mission to target and eliminate those who have evaded punishment.
As she carries out her twisted form of vigilantism, she grapples with the moral implications of her actions, and we see the toll it takes on her psyche.
Fargo’s immersive writing style draws readers into Scarlett’s world and makes them question their moral compass. This dark and thought-provoking thriller challenges readers to examine their beliefs regarding justice in an imperfect world and the complexities of morality when you’re trying to do ‘the right thing’.
The Return by Rachel Harrison
The story follows a group of close-knit friends: Elise, Julie, Molly, and Mae. Julie vanished during a hiking trip two years ago, leaving her friends devastated and bewildered.
They had given up hope of ever seeing her again until one day, Julie mysteriously reappeared without remembering where she had been or what happened to her.
As Julie tries to readjust to her old life, her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and disturbing. Cold, dark and detached demeanour, Julie’s behaviour starts to concern her friends. They struggle to reconcile the person they once knew with the changed version of Julie standing before them.
The group of friends becomes consumed by their quest to uncover the truth behind Julie’s disappearance and altered state. They embark on a harrowing journey to uncover the secrets beneath the surface, delving into Julie’s past and the circumstances surrounding her vanishing. As they dig deeper, they encounter disturbing clues and eerie occurrences hinting at something much darker at play.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Rhys’ novel serves as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, Jane Eyre. It delves into the life of Antoinette Cosway, who becomes the infamous ‘madwoman in the attic’ in Brontë’s work.
Set in the 19th century, we learn about Antoinette’s background as a Creole heiress in Jamaica. It delves into her complex identity as a mixed-race woman caught between the conflicting cultural and social expectations of her Creole heritage and the influence of British colonialism.
The narrative unfolds through different perspectives, shedding light on Antoinette’s upbringing, her troubled marriage to Mr Rochester, and the events leading to her eventual descent into ‘madness’.
The book offers a postcolonial reimagining of the character of Bertha Mason, who is confined and silenced in Jane Eyre. The novel has been applauded for giving a voice to a marginalised character and challenging the assumptions and stereotypes presented in the original classic. If you want one of your favourite novels ruined for you and be angered by how men treat women, this is the book for you.
Slewfoot by Gerald Brom
Slewfoot takes readers back to late 17th-century colonial America, a time of superstitions and witch trials. Abitha is a young Englishwoman, freshly married to a stranger her father palmed her off to. Then, just as she’s starting to settle, her husband dies under mysterious circumstances.
Her late husband’s conniving brother keeps trying to beat down her spirit. Her Puritan village is suspicious and rigid, and more mysterious deaths lead to whispers of ‘witchcraft’ in the air. Abitha is pushed to the edge until she encounters someone (or something) craving blood who may end up being her best ally.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Yoder’s darkly comedic story revolves around an unnamed protagonist, “Nightbitch, ” a former artist who begins to feel increasingly trapped and unfulfilled in her role as a mother and wife. As she struggles with the mundane and relentless tasks of childcare, she starts experiencing a bizarre transformation. Nightbitch begins to believe she is turning into a dog, both physically and mentally.
Exploring themes of motherhood, identity, and the pressures placed on women in modern society, Nightbitch’s transformation is a metaphor for the loss of self and individuality that can come with traditional gender roles. Through her journey, the book raises questions about women’s sacrifices, the complexities of motherhood, and the need for personal fulfilment.
Providing a satirical commentary on societal expectations and the challenges women face in balancing personal aspirations with motherhood, the narrative challenges traditional notions of femininity and pushes the boundaries of societal norms by turning a non-submissive woman into a literal feral dog.
A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G Summers
Dorothy Daniels is a food critic. She is also a cannibal. Dorothy’s appetite for human flesh becomes increasingly difficult to satiate. As she navigates her dual existence, the consequences of her insatiable hunger start chasing her down. Her actions don’t go unnoticed, and she must constantly be vigilant to avoid detection by those who might uncover her dark secret.
Dorothy’s unconventional cravings become a metaphor for her own dissatisfaction and her quest for dominance in a world that often undermines her. Readers can dive into the complexities of power dynamics, control, and the fine line between desire and destruction.
Confessions by Kanae Minato
When she calls off her engagement, middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi has only her young daughter to hold onto for support. But one fateful day, an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches changes her life entirely.
After filing her resignation, Yuko has one last lecture to give. She reveals that two students were responsible for her daughter’s death but got away without punishment. Frustrated with the justice system’s failure, Yuko decides to seek her own justice.
The narrative unfolds with revenge at its core, where a seemingly insignificant act sets in motion a series of events that irreversibly change – and ruin – numerous lives.
This young adult novel (with a heavy trigger warning) reimagines Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a contemporary setting. Readers follow Hade, a high school student who, along with her friends, seeks revenge on a group of privileged boys who sexually assaulted her.
Driven by a thirst for vengeance, Jade meticulously plans and executes her retaliation, adopting a ruthless and cunning demeanour. With her friends by her side, she infiltrates the lives of those who wronged her, determined to dismantle their privileged world.
As Jade immerses herself in a world of deception and manipulation, she must confront her inner darkness and the potential consequences of her pursuit of revenge as Capin touches up themes of power, consent, moving on, and reclaiming one’s own narrative.
Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk
Lisa Yyland is a sixteen-year-old pregnant girl kidnapped and held captive by a group of sadistic individuals. However, Lisa is no ordinary victim. She possesses an extraordinary ability to detach herself emotionally from the horrific events unfolding around her. Instead of succumbing to fear and despair, she meticulously plans her escape and plots her revenge.
As Lisa’s captivity continues, she strategically manipulates her captors, using her intelligence and keen observation skills to turn the tables on those who have wronged her. In a chilling twist, she sees her kidnapping as an opportunity to exact justice in a world she perceives as cruel and unfair.
Lisa refuses to be a passive victim, and with each page you turn, you will find yourself wondering who will be the victim and perpetrator by the end.