The best books about badly behaved women

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

Who am I?

In my reading and writing, I’m drawn to complex characters, who embody the unpleasant impulses and mixed motivations we all have. I especially love well-drawn antiheroines, as women tend to be judged more harshly for being badly behaved, in life. All my books revolve around women who fit this description, from the wives and girlfriends of notorious serial killers in The Love of a Bad Man to the inner-circle of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Beautiful Revolutionary to Paulina Novak, the reckless, alcoholic murder victim at the heart of The Newcomer. To me, fiction is a playground for exploring the extremes of human thought and behaviour. 


I wrote...

The Love of a Bad Man

By Laura Elizabeth Woollett,

Book cover of The Love of a Bad Man

What is my book about?

A schoolgirl catches the eye of the future leader of Nazi Germany. An aspiring playwright writes to a convicted serial killer, seeking inspiration. A pair of childhood sweethearts reunite to commit rape and murder. A devoted Mormon wife follows her husband into the wilderness after he declares himself a prophet.

The twelve stories in The Love of a Bad Man imagine the lives of real women, all of whom were the lovers, wives, or mistresses of various ‘bad’ men in history. Beautifully observed, fascinating, and at times horrifying, the stories interrogate power, the nature of obsession, and the lengths some women will go to for the men they love.

The books I picked & why

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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.  

Notes on a Scandal

By Zoe Heller,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Notes on a Scandal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Film tie-in edition of Zoe Heller's darkly compelling Booker shortlisted novel. The film of Notes on a Scandal received four Oscar nominations and stars Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench.

From the first day that the beguiling Sheba Hart joins the staff of St George's history teacher Barbara Covett is convinced she has found a kindred spirit. Barbara's loyalty to her new friend is passionate and unstinting and when Sheba is discovered having an illicit affair with one of her pupils, Barbara quickly elects herself as Sheba's chief defender. But all is not as it first seems in this dark story…


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.    

My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked My Sister, the Serial Killer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sunday Times bestseller and The Times #1 bestseller

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019
Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019
Winner of the 2019 LA Times Award for Best Crime Thriller
Capital Crime Debut Author of the Year 2019
__________

'A literary sensation'
Guardian

'A bombshell of a book... Sharp, explosive, hilarious'
New York Times

'Glittering and funny... A stiletto slipped between the ribs and through the left ventricle of the heart' Financial Times
__________

When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber…


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. 

The Majesties

By Tiffany Tsao,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Majesties as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best Books to Read in August - The Independent

Gwendolyn and Estella are as close as sisters can be. But now Gwendolyn is lying in a coma, the sole survivor after Estella poisons their entire family.

As Gwendolyn struggles to regain consciousness, she desperately retraces her memories, trying to uncover the moment that led to such a brutal act.

Journeying from the luxurious world of Indonesia's rich and powerful, to the spectacular shows of Paris Fashion Week, and the melting pot of Melbourne's student scene, The Majesties is a haunting novel about the dark secrets that can build a family…


Sympathy

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. 

Sympathy

By Olivia Sudjic,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sympathy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE DEBUT OF 2017THAT EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT FROM ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING YOUNG BRITISH NOVELISTS

'A gripping odyssey into one woman's online-addled inner life' -- Independent

'Reads likeThe Talented Mr Ripley for the 21st century' --Vice UK

At twenty-three, AliceHare arrives in New York looking for a place to call home. Instead she finds Mizuko Himura, an intriguing Japanese writer, who she begins to follow online,fixated from afar and increasingly convinced this stranger's life holds a mirror to her own. But as Alice closes in on her 'internet twin', fictional and real lives begin to blur, leaving a…


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.  

Two Girls Fat and Thin

By Mary Gaitskill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Two Girls Fat and Thin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This captivating novel shimmers with dark intensity and wicked wit. In a stunning synthesis of eroticism, rage, pathos, and humor, Gaitskill's "fine storyteller's pace and brilliant metaphors" (The New York Times Book Review) create a haunting and unforgettable journey into the dark side of contemporary life and the deepest recesses of the soul.


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