In the wake of Franzenfreude and the literary prize season, everyone seems to be talking about what it means to be a female novelist. This week, two British papers posed the question to two novelists—Lionel Shriver and Curtis Sittenfeld—and got some interesting answers.
Curtis Sittenfeld told the Guardian, in an interview about American Wife, “I think in general, novels by men tend to be taken more seriously than novels by women. But I also think that novels being taken seriously is kind of a nebulous concept. I mean, what does that mean? Getting multiple reviews in the New York Times? Personally, I have never wished I were a male novelist.”
Shriver’s piece in the Independent is, characteristically, a bit more provocative. In an essay written partly as a response to her acceptance of an invitation to read at an all-female literary conference (“I confess that I accepted the invitation to appear in this festival before I realised it was an all-female line-up,” she writes. “Had I known, I’d not necessarily have declined the invite, but I’d certainly not have been any more inclined to say yes.”), Shriver goes on to admit that she sometimes has trouble including female writers when asked to name her favorites, in part because “The big names in the literary pantheon are repeated over and over again. . . . [I]n the glare of a spotlight and frantic to remember any author’s name at all, even women like me are going to remember Philip Roth – just as, asked to name a soft drink, I’m going to remember Coca-Cola. Advertising works.”
But she also suggests—with a few caveats—that there’s another problem: “contemporary female authors tend to write books, not B-list exactly, but A-. There are wonderful exceptions to this little markdown, many in my personal all-female pantheon above, but they are too few.”
As someone who reads and loves many female authors, including Sittenfeld and Shriver, I’m not 100% sure I believe that assertion. (An oversimplification, but I found myself identifying with a comment from 1maia asserting that “Most american men write about being rich but bored and shagging their friend’s wife, which i can neither relate to nor find interesting.”) Readers, what do you have to say?