The best books about badly behaved women

Laura Elizabeth Woollett Author Of The Love of a Bad Man
By Laura Elizabeth Woollett

The Books I Picked & Why

Notes on a Scandal

By Zoe Heller

Book cover of Notes on a Scandal

Why this book?

I love an unreliable narrator, and Barbara Covett is the best of the best. A repressed, embittered history teacher at a school for disadvantaged students in London, Barbara is contemptuous of her pupils and colleagues alike, until classy, idealistic art teacher Sheba comes along. When Sheba begins an affair with a fifteen-year-old student, Barbara becomes her confidante and enabler. While the teacher-student relationship and its fallout make for addictive reading, Barbara’s psyche is the star of the novel, and her toxic ‘friendship’ with Sheba is equal parts sinister and revealing of her deep loneliness.  

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite

Book cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer

Why this book?

I’m one of four sisters so stories about sisterhood have a special place on my bookshelf. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, My Sister, the Serial Killer takes the perspective of Korede: a nurse and typical firstborn, responsible and self-sacrificing. Korede is accustomed to cleaning up the messes of her glamorous, egotistical younger sister, Ayoola. These messes include the murders of several ex-boyfriends. After Ayoola sets her sights on Korede’s long-term crush, a doctor at the hospital where she works, Korede must decide where her loyalties lie. Despite all the dead bodies, it’s a darkly hilarious read, full of insights about desire, envy, and society’s expectations of women.    

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The Majesties

By Tiffany Tsao

Book cover of The Majesties

Why this book?

Originally published as Under Your Wings in Australia, The Majesties could just easily be titled My Sister, the Mass-Murderer. It has one of my favourite openings of all time: beginning in a hospital, where Chinese-Indonesian fashion designer Gwendolyn lies comatose, the sole survivor of her sister Estella’s mass-poisoning of their 300-strong family dynasty. Though it has been compared to Crazy Rich Asians with its globe-trotting plot (taking place in Jakarta, Paris, and Melbourne, among other settings), The Majesties is a more sombre read, exploring corruption and racial tension in the upper echelons of Indonesian society. 

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By Olivia Sudjic

Book cover of Sympathy

Why this book?

Writing about the internet is notoriously difficult but Sudjic swings it, sublimely. Although ostensibly set between London and New York, Sympathy almost transcends setting with its focus on millennial Alice Hare’s online haunting of writer Mizuku Himura. After becoming infatuated with Mizuku over Instagram, Alice maneuvers an IRL friendship, which spirals into sexual obsession and possessiveness. It’s a brilliant character study and meditation on alienation, online personas, and the algorithmization of attraction. 

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Two Girls Fat and Thin

By Mary Gaitskill

Book cover of Two Girls Fat and Thin

Why this book?

Almost any of Mary Gaitskill’s books would have suited this theme (and her short story collection Bad Behavior is the obvious choice), but Two Girls, Fat and Thin is a recent discovery and new favourite of mine. Dorothy Never is the titular fat girl, and a former acolyte of an Ayn Rand-like guru, Anna Granite. Thin girl Justine Shade is a journalist who tracks her down while writing a takedown of Granite. From this setup, the novel backtracks to tell the girls’ life stories, in parallel, building up to Justine’s journalistic betrayal of Dorothy, and its surprising aftermath.  

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