The best books by women of the 21st century

On International Women’s Day, writers and critics pick the best works by women since 2000

SINÉAD GLEESON
You don’t need me to tell you to read everything pre and post-2000 by the greatest Irish writer, Anne Enright (who just happens to be a woman) - but you really should.  Or to read our poets: Eavan Boland, Rita Ann Higgins, Elaine Feeney, Sinéad Morrissey, Leanne O’Sullivan. You already know all about the success of Marian Keyes and Tana French, and you’ll soon hear more about the possibilities of the future with Melatu Uche Okorie, Lauren Foley, Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi and Caragh Maxwell.

In fiction, Irish women have certainly excelled, but right now, there are non-fiction conversations that are starting to feel like narrative stents, a ventricle wall unblocked. Stories that resist the novel; stories that can’t be told in short fiction. In Ireland, we’re playing catch-up on our US contemporaries when it comes to the essay, but slowly these stories are emerging, from Emilie Pine to Rosita Boland and Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Stories that are rooted in the personal but are vehemently political. One book that could be said to have started this movement is Lia Mill’s extraordinary In Your Face. In it, Mills details her experience of facial cancer, and subsequent surgery to save both her life and her jaw. It has a well-deep heart and contains some of the finest writing about pain and illness (“the pain in my cheek throbs and swells, like a musical note; when the wave rises and falls, the fall has a sorrowful note to it, where some part of the chorus feels sympathy for the organism, for its frailty.”) Mills manages to be both lyrical and comic, laying out her experience with great humanity. It’s a book about much more than illness - survival, and the multitudes of life – and should be read more.

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