Whether depicted as the virginal bride, the nurturing mother or the devious siren – classic literature has too often kept women trapped in ridged archetypes.
But one new unconventional genre of literature has become increasingly popular among readers for celebrating the raw, unfeminine and at times depraved aspects of female characters.
This trend was sparked by Ottessa Mohfegh, Boston’s best-selling author. It follows a wealthy, nihilistic woman who chooses to spend a whole year sleeping with prescription drugs.
Often fronted by an anti-hero or unreliable narrator, popular books include characters who binge on drugs and alcohol regularly, take illicit photos of strangers they meet on the street and stalk crushes they’ve never met.
Popularity of literature that highlights the raw and sometimes unfeminine aspects of female characters is increasing due to books such as My Year of Rest/Relaxation
After the enormous popularity of Ottessa Molegh, Boston’s acclaimed novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation (pictured), this trend has emerged. It follows a rich and nihilistic woman who uses prescription drugs to get her sleep.
According to Refinery 29, ‘recent writers have chosen to eschew The Divine Feminine for The Gross Feminine’ with Moshfegh becoming a stand-out author among the genre.
Her bleakly satirical 2018 novel of narcotic hibernation follows a privileged but troubled young woman living off her dead parents’ inheritance in New York City in 2001.
As a relentlessly violent narrator, she takes an indifferent view of everything, even her Wall Street boyfriend and her alcoholic best friend.
After getting fired from her art gallery employer for constantly sleeping on the job, the narrator decides to try and sleep for an entire year – but not before she takes revenge by ‘s***ing on the floor’ and stuffing her dirty tissue inside one of the sculptures.
Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts focuses on a photographer who captures explicit photos of the men she meets in Newcastle. Eileen follows an older woman who lived in New England in the 1960s with her emotionally abusive father.
‘I’m not a junkie or something,’ she insists, despite the prescription downers prescribed by her illegitimate psychiatrist, causing nightlong blackouts where she has no control of her body.
The book has gathered over 10.9M views on TikTok and topped bestseller lists around the world last year after gaining social media fame three years following its release.
Following the viral fame of her 2018 bestseller, Moshfegh’s 2015 book Eileen also became a fixture on ‘BookTok’ with thousands of social media reviews raving about the novel.
Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine has the protagonist drinking two vodka bottles on weekends
Eileen (a woman in her 60s) lives in New England with her abusive and mentally ill father.
She lives in squalor, often skips washing, and works at a youth correctional facility where she spends most weekends stalking a handsome prison guard, before developing a crush on the prison’s new psychologist.
While she is fully aware of her terribleness, the narrator manages to be kind and considerate of others around her. She writes: “It always annoyed me when my flatness wasn’t met with good humor, good manners.
“Did she not know that I was a monster? A creep? A crone?” She mocked me for being polite, when I was deservedly greeted with dismay and disgust.
Other popular books in the genre include Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts, following a photographer who obsessively takes explicit photographs of men she meets on the streets of Newcastle.
A break at work at a bar is rewarded when she discovers that a London gallery exhibit will reenergize her art career.
However when previously repressed memories are triggered by her archive of artwork, she begins to spiral out of control.
A frequent drug and alcohol abuser, this protagonist is often referred to as the “absolute worst” on social media.
Lara Williams’ 2019 Supper Club features a collection of women disillusioned by the world who meet at night to drink, eat, and sleep until they die.
This hedonistic group escalates their extravagant parties by ripping at meat with their hands and throwing food. They also take drugs and break into private homes.
Emma Glass’s acclaimed novel Peach follows a young woman coping in the aftermath of sexual assault, while Hysteria by Jessica Gross follows an alcohol-fuelled, masochistic young woman who becomes convinced her bartender is actually Sigmund Freud.
Although protagonists can be beautiful and self-confident, this genre allows for the inclusion of characters that are sometimes overlooked and invisible. However, it doesn’t make them less likable.
Lara Williams’ 2019 Supper Club follows a collective of women feeling disillusioned who decide to gather at night and eat and drink until their sick, while Hysteria by Jessica Gross follows an alcohol-fuelled, masochistic young woman who becomes convinced her bartender is actually Sigmund Freud
Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, for example, sees the protagonist slander everyone and spend her weekends in her apartment drinking two bottles vodka and stalking an unrelated man.
These books explore the idea of women being so dissociative that they no longer conform to society’s expectations of femininity.
Women are encouraged to stop referring to themselves as “girlbossing”, and instead seek to be equal with men.
Emmeline Clein wrote an essay about BuzzFeed. She said that “Sex and the City and Cosmo tutorials for how to get there didn’t really make much of any crack in the bell-jar.”
“So we are now seems to be internalising our existential aches, angst and smirking knowingly at it, while numbing to preserve our nonchalance.