Top Ten Women’s Experimental Narratives

I was first introduced to the category / genre “women’s experimental narratives” as an undergraduate at the University of Louisville. I went on to take several courses as an undergrad and graduate student that focused on such works, but my favorites are still mostly ones I was introduced to in that first course with Dr. Beth Boehm. So, here’s my favorite women’s experimental narratives (in alphabetical order by author).

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Product Description: From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires, werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.

No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff
Product Description:  A brilliant Jamaican-American writer takes on the themes of colonialism, race, myth, and political awakening through the experiences of a light-skinned woman named Clare Savage. The story is one of discovery as Clare moves through a variety of settings – Jamaica, England, America – and encounters people who affect her search for place and self. The structure of No Telephone to Heaven combines naturalism and lyricism, and traverses space and time, dream and reality, myth and history, reflecting the fragmentation of the protagonist, who nonetheless seeks wholeness and connection. In this deply poetic novel there exist several levels: the world Clare encounters, and a world of which she only gradually becomes aware – a world of extreme poverty, the real Jamaica, not the Jamaica of the middle class, not the Jamaica of the tourist. And Jamaica – almost a character in the book – is described in terms of extraordinary beauty, coexisting with deep human tragedy.  The violence that rises out of extreme oppression, the divided loyalties of a colonized person, sexual dividedness, and the dividedness of a person neither white nor black – all of these are truths that Clare must face. Overarching all the themes in this exceptionally fine novel is the need to become whole, and the decisions and the courage demanded to achieve that wholeness.

Nights by H. D.
Product Description: A woman struggles to understand her bisexuality and the failure of her marriage and becomes involved in a heterosexual affair.

Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
Product Description: A Chinese American woman tells of the Chinese myths, family stories and events of her California childhood that have shaped her identity. *This book has had the biggest impact on me as reader—ever. I will blog about it more fully soon.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
Product Description: The poet, Audre Lorde, depicts her life and examines the influence of various women on her development in her biomythography.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Product Description: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Product Description: Jean Rhys’s reputation was made upon the publication of this passionate and heartbreaking novel, in which she brings into the light one of fiction’s most mysterious characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. A sensual and protected young woman, Antoinette Cosway grows up in the lush natural world of the Caribbean. She is sold into marriage to the coldhearted and prideful Rochester, who succumbs to his need for money and his lust. Yet he will make her pay for her ancestors’ sins of slaveholding, excessive drinking, and nihilistic despair by enslaving her as a prisoner in his bleak English home. In this best-selling novel Rhys portrays a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
Product Description: Stein’s most famous work; one of the richest and most irreverent biographies ever written.

Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Product Description: Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Product Description: Begun as a “joke,” Orlando is Virginia Woolf’s fantastical biography of a poet who first appears as a sixteen-year-old boy at the court of Elizabeth I, and is left at the novel’s end a married woman in the year 1928. Part love letter to Vita Sackville-West, part exploration of the art of biography, Orlando is one of Woolf’s most popular and entertaining works.

Happy Reading!


1 Comment

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One response to “Top Ten Women’s Experimental Narratives

  1. Beloved is one of my favorite books.

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