As I contemplate the publication of my first book, Any Girl, a book I spent years writing and re-writing, I think back on the books that I’ve read and loved by other women and the inspiration they provided to encourage me to tell my own story. These books give validation to our feelings and thoughts, and permission to say the things we need to say, about ourselves, and about the world at large. I hope my book offers similar validation and permission to bear ourselves with bravery and compassion.
The Power by Naomi Alderman is an expansive, globe-travelling novel about girls and women with a special ability. It asks what would happen if men were afraid of women, rather than the other way around. At mid-adolescence, girls discover that, rather than waking up more fully to how their sexuality is conditioned, compromised and commodified, they have the power to electrocute. This is not a book where the happy ending is that girls have power, but more asks questions about abuse of power. I could not put it down. I bought it for several friends, I was so desperate for them to read it.
Pornland by Gail Dines is essential reading for anyone interested in how female sexuality, sexual desire and sexual objectification is continually being commodified with disastrous results for all of us.
Luster By Raven Leilani is an often uncomfortable, sometimes funny, but always compelling read about a young black woman, Edie, who is carrying the burdens of her recent past, as she enters a relationship with a married white man in his forties. Edie does not self-pity, but is remarkably strong of character in situations many of us much older would falter at.
Part of the reason I loved Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s non-fiction book A Ghost in the Throat was because of how it bore motherhood in an utterly and unflinchingly honest and visceral way. There are so many parts to pick from this book, the beautiful way Ní Ghríofa describes the drudge work of daily child minding, cleaning and list making, so much so that these activities seemed like sacred holy work by the time I finished the book. The ordinariness and extraordinariness of the female body and what it is capable of. It is a celebration of womanhood.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elisabeth Russell is my favourite novel of the last couple of years. It is an intelligent and insightful telling of how an adult man grooms a teenage girl, from the perspective of the victim into her adulthood. It expertly and excruciatingly shows us how a victim does not always perceive abuse as abuse, but as love, and how the perpetrator can wield extraordinary manipulative power. Crucially, the novel does not stop when the abuse does, but follows the protagonist into her thirties, when the #metoo movement is unfolding, and painfully shows us how trauma, particularly sexual or developmental trauma, can divert a life of potential into a life of psychological survival.
Problems by the late Jade Sharma is a short, funny and clever novel about a married woman, Maya, with an addiction to heroin. The book tells her story of the affair she is engaged in and her engagement in selling sex to fund her habit, all while somewhat maintaining a normal outer facade of bookshop employee, MA student, and wife. Sharma is incredibly observant of the tiny details of human interactions, and the multitudes contained in Maya makes an ostensibly unlikeable character empathetic and relatable. The darkness and sense of hopelessness is peppered with Sharma’s incredible observant humour. It leaves you feeling alive.
Mia Döring is a writer and psychotherapist specialising in sexual trauma. She lives and works in Dublin. Her essays, fiction and articles have been published in Litro Magazine, The Bohemyth, Ropes Journal and Huffington Post. Any Girl is her first book.