Women NOT in Love

Friday, February 20, 2015


The other day I saw a great post that made me stop and think. It was a call for books about women that have absolutely nothing to do with romance. I was absolutely shocked by how long it took me to come up with a only handful of books. 

Think about it, how many can you think of off the top of your head? No young crush, no heartbreak leading to self-discovery, no casual dating, try to think of books that have no love in them at all. It's way tougher than it should be. 

The opposite doesn't seem to be true at all. I can think of a dozen books about men that don't involve romance. There are coming-of-age stories, thrillers, mysteries, and classics like Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness. There are so many! But when you hold up the same criteria for books with a woman protagonist, the options are scarce. 

I understand that love: having it, losing it, trying to find it, etc. can make a great story. But women are complex and there are a lot of stories to tell about them that don't include love. 

Here are the books that I finally came up with and honestly there's a couple that I think are questionable.

The Whale Rider, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Flavia de Luce series, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Kinsey Milhone series, The Handmaid’s Tale, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Still Alice, Wild, The Eyre Affair, Emily of New Moon, The Optimist's Daughter, The Thirteenth Tale, The Likeness, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, True Grit, Little Bee


What books could you add to the list? 

Added suggestions from you guys:  Nervous Conditions, Code Name Verity, Dolores Claiborne, The Gathering, The Year of the Flood, The Invention of Wings, We Were Liar,  Silver Sparrow, Matilda, Vanessa Michael Monroe series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Nightingale, Alice in Wonderland, Room, A Little Princess, Station Eleven, The Just City, and Gray Mountain.

Lovely painting by Jacquelyn Bischak from here.

19 comments:

Ellie said...

I have to admit that I'd never really thought about this and it's quite tricky to think of books that don't have romance in. So many include a love interest as a side story - even in things like mysteries/crime. I will have to have a think!

Jillian said...

Great discussion topic, Melissa. Now that you've brought it up, I too can't really come up with a title so quickly. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as well as The Thirteenth Tale are great examples! Looking at my shelf, I can only pinpoint Still Alice and the ones above.

Lisa said...

This is making me think! There are books though where romance and/or sex happens for the central women characters, but it doesn't define the story, or them. I might put Kinsey Milhone in that category, and also Elizabeth Peters' books.

Marianne said...

I'm really glad you posted this, as I feel strongly on this topic!

One thing I'd add is that a lot of times, the books we do find about females that don't involve romance are about a little girl rather than a woman -- ie. Scout Finch. (I'm in no way complaining about To Kill a Mockingbird. Absolutely excellent book, and girls should be protagonists too!) I just mean -- once she's a woman, would her story then attach itself to a man?

Come to think of it, she's rather attached to a man as a little girl (Atticus). I can't imagine the story without him! But is she really standing on her own? Now I'm curious to see Scout Finch as an adult. I guess we'll see what a different perspective on her in Go Set a Watchman. :)

ANYway, my point was -- a lot of times when I ask people to list books about girls that don't involve romance, what I get is lists of books about little girls who aren't old enough for romance, the implication being that the "romance" element can be eliminated only when they are prepubescent. My brother suggested Little House on the Prairie, which at first worked for me. Then it occurred to me: she's a child through most of the series, and very, very wrapped up in her father as patriarch. (Again, I'm not complaining about the stories. I love them! I'm just noting the technicality.) Then as she grows older, what happens? Romance.

I recently read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. There is a love story in it -- but it is NOT about the love story. The love story doesn't overwhelm the tale of human experience. If you haven't read that one, you might try it. I like how it's able to incorporate a natural part of life (love) into the story of the female protagonist without making that who she is.

All the best, Melissa!! x

Andi said...

Oh gosh, I can't think of any beyond what you've provided here. This is a great post, and this is something I'll be watching for as I'm reading. If I hit on one, I think I'll feel like I've hit the jackpot.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ellie - It really surprised me by how hard it was to come up with even a few!

Jillian - It's so much harder than it should be!

Lisa - Yes! I almost put Kinsey Milhone in that category, but then I thought about the books where she does have a romantic relationship. I think she's right on the edge.

Marianne - Exactly! The more I thought about it, those were the main books I came up with too. It's so rare to have a book about an adult female that doesn't include romance.
I agree about Orphan Train, but again, the romantic relationship made a huge impact on her decisions in life (particularly one) and shaped her future. It's almost impossible to find one that doesn't at least touch on some romance.

Andi - Me too. Sometimes you make it 80% of the way through the book, then all of a sudden the main character has her life together and a magical man appears to sweep her off her feet.

Bridget said...

I'm not sure I can think of any beyond what you've listed—maybe Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King? It's about an abused wife so I guess you could argue there's no romance (although I do believe there was some before they married, but it's all told in flashback, and there's no new romantic interest). There's also The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but the protagonist was a boy (the other main character was a girl, though, and it's a story about love but not romantic love).

Wow...this is really hard! Good thing to discuss though!

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

This is such a good point. I just finished Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, which would definitely count, but it's hard to think of too many more.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bridget - I haven't read Dolores Claiborne yet. I would argue that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is more his book than her's. While I do think that all the Hempstock women are amazing, the story is being told from his point of view.

Sam - I haven't read that one, but adding it to the list!

bkclubcare said...

Sister Carrie! ha. She never says she is IN LOVE with the guys, she just like pretty things.
The Year of the Flood has two female protagonists.
The Invention of Wings
We Were Liars
Now, I'm getting confused because I have read some epic stories of women and their entire life but the focus isn't romance: The Signature of All Things, or Life After Life or... I just read a fiction book about a woman who tries to figure out why her sister died of cancer. It does dredge up her some love life crap but it wasn't central to the story.
And there's Silver Sparrow! And I'm not sure about Wish Her Safe At Home. Cuz that's one crazy book.

bkclubcare said...

Could it be that I just don't pay any attention to any romantic elements or themes? Possible...

Belle Wong said...

This is such a great question! It's really made me think. I think there are might be more examples in mystery and thriller categories. Like the Vanessa Michael Monroe series (The Informationist is the first book). And the Stieg Larsson books. There's a police procedural series I really enjoy - I've been trying and trying but can't remember the author's name - which has as its main character a female sociopathic poilce detective, and there's no love interest in that one either. I'm going to have to keep my eye out for books like these now!

Jillian said...

The Nightingale and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!

CJ_Apple said...

You are right! This is surprisingly hard. I looked through my book list and all I could come up with were Matilda by Roald Dahl, Alice in Wonderland, and A Little Princess.

Brona Joy said...

Wow this is a tough one Melissa!

I've trawled through my backlist to see if anything else pops up.

There's The Gathering by Anne Enright (which is about familial love). Room by Emma Donoghue could also be applicable.

Provocative post.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bkclubcare - The Invention of Wings is a great one. I agree, I thought of a bunch before realizing there were romantic elements, they just weren't central to the story. It's a thin line.

Belle - It's made me so much more aware of it while I'm reading now!

Jillian - Even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has a relationship in it. But to me the second book in the series gets completely away from that for Lisbeth.

CJ_Apple - Those are great ones! They definitely fall into the category that Marianne talked about, all young girls.

Brona - It is tough! I haven't read The Gathering, but Room is tricky because it's from a young boy's point of view and that kind of makes it his story.

ebookclassics said...

Yay! This is a topic I've been thinking about for a long time after being wholly unsatisfied with Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Right now I'm reading Gray Mountain by John Grisham which has a smart female character and so far there's been no romance! Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Jeanne said...

Station Eleven, St. John Mandel.
The Just City, Jo Walton

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

ebookclassics - It's funny how once you think about it, it's hard not to notice it whenever you're reading something.

Jeanne - Station Eleven Yes!!!