12 Iconic Female Novelists You Need To Read ASAP

Rediscovered a love for reading lately? These are the women whose back catalogues you'll want to devour right away.


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Judy Blume

Anyone who read Judy Blume as a teen likely vividly remembers being MORTIFIED reading Forever. Her other teen novels deal vaguely with issues like masturbation and periods, but Forever is the one where the young couple actually do it, and even name the guy’s penis. Her teen canon still really holds up, even for adults (although you might want to vom when it’s the parents you relate to) but her adult books are amazing too, I read Summer Sisters every year on holidays, and never regret it.

Elin Hilderbrand

Last year, I was looking for a summery book to read and came across The Perfect Couple on my Kindle. To say I devoured it would be an understatement and all of a sudden I had a new author I loved with thirty-plus books to enjoy; I was thrilled. Set largely on the island the author calls home, St Thomas in the Caribbean and Nantucket off the coast of New England, the novels are both pure escapism and edge-of-your-seat page-turners. Whether the drama is relationship-orientated or a twisting-turning whodunnit, it’s always immensely readable. She also has a cute little Christmas series of novellas set on Nantucket about a family’s own personal festive foibles.

Jodi Picoult

If you like books with a moral dilemma in them, Picoult’s work is for you. Every novel poses a question with an ethical slant to it, and every single one will make you think and teach you several things you never know. They are all meticulously researched which makes them extremely interesting as well as gripping. Some have courtroom drama, some are thrillers, all are about family and what that means to humans. I eagerly await each new release, but there are 26 to catch up on.

Zadie Smith

I remember the huge hype around White Teeth when it came out in 200, written by a 25-year-old half-Jamaican Londoner with themes of post-colonialism, immigrations and the ties of family and friends that bind us. It was a monster hit, spawned a Channel 4 miniseries and won countless prizes. her third novel On Beauty addresses similar themes, although this time, based in the US and based on another two families and their entwined lives. Her style is intricate but so realistic and beautiful.


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Jackie Collins

The queen of the bonkbuster, Jackie didn’t necessarily invent the genre but she did perfect it. Born into a glam showbiz family in London, she and her famous sister Joan came of age in post-war England. Originally an actress, and allegedly dating A-list movie stars since she was a teen tearaway, she moved to Hollywood to pursue her career but instead returned to England with hundreds of outlandish stories and memories of amazing characters she then parlayed into racy books. I’ve read everything she’s ever written, and e3hile the quality varies from book to book, she’ll still have you gripped every time. If you’re a Jackie newbie, start with Thrill!

Curtis Sittenfeld

I came to Sittenfeld’s work via Sisterland, her 2013 novel about twin sisters, one of whom has psychic powers. I was expecting some kind of magic realism with that synopsis, but strangely that’s not what I got, as he writing is very realistic. Fans are divided over Eligible, her retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but American Wife is widely adored, based as it is on former First Lady Laura Bush. Readers are thus excited for the forthcoming Rodham, an alternate history of Hillary Clinton’s life.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Known for her book of essays We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda is also a wonderful novelist. Aged 42 and hailing from Nigeria, she moved to the States to attend college in New England, and became an extremely accomplished academic. Heavily inspired by Chinua Achebe’s exceptional novel Things Fall Apart, she started writing poetry before turning to fiction with the award-winning Purple Hibiscus. Half A Yellow Sun is perhaps her most famous work, telling the story of the Biafran War through three characters’ perspectives.


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Maeve Binchy

When I think of reading a Maeve novel, I think of pure comfort. There is something so quintessentially Irish and nostalgic about her books; from Circle of Friends with its innocence and loyalty, to Tara Road with its wisdom and sadness, there is something aching familiar in every tale. Several have been adapted into films, including the two I’ve mentioned, but the language Binchy writes in is incredibly evocative and moving. I still look at three-storey Georgian houses in Dublin and wonder which one served as her inspiration for Tara Road, and which restaurant Quentins is based on.

Margaret Atwood

Atwood is prominent once again thanks to the TV adaption of The Handmaid’s Tale and its recent follow-up The Testaments, but she’s been an important feminist novelist since the 70s, and a poet and academic before that. Her books are undoubtedly political, even when it’s not that obvious. There’s often an element of science-fiction or dystopia, but in the current climate, they seem completely prescient. Even the most outlandish events in her books have you now thinking, hmm, I could see that happening! Which is terrifying, obviously.

Sally Rooney

Sure look, we all know about Sally! Something of a prodigy, at only 29 years of age, she’s had two novels with major prizes, receive huge critical and commercial acclaim, and… oh, did we mention one of them is Normal People? The biggest hit TV adaption since Game Of Thrones? Yep, she’s doing well, to put it mildly. If you like her stream-of-consciousness, personal monologue style and want even more, try fellow Irish author Lisa McInerney.

Marian Keyes

The Queen of Irish popular fictions, Marian needs no introduction. Not only is she my personal hero, she’s also a wonderful, kind and hilariously warm person with the most incredible mind for fiction. Her books are about people – different types of people and relationships, their flaws and challenges and mistakes and triumphs. If you’ve never read one of her books before, start with the Walsh family saga. I want to tell you to read Rachel’s Holiday first because it is her very best book, but that will spoil Watermelon, which is also excellent and a frankly remarkable debut the author wrote not long after checking out of rehab for alcoholism. Her books are rich, textured, layered and of course, absolutely gas.


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Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people think of Austen in one of two ways – as someone you read in school and either loved or loathed, or as someone who, like Shakespeare before her, provided the basis for some of your favourite modern takes on her tales. Either way, you’re likely familiar with her work. Pride and Prejudice is perhaps her most famous book, but Emma may be a close second, followed by Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Love and Friendship and Persuasion. She wrote her six novels at the turn of the 19th century, so it’s pretty bloody amazing that they’re still fabulous now and their social commentary (sadly) often still holds up.

Irish Greats

Not icons yet perhaps, but getting there…

Louise O’Neill

Growing every year as an author, her books are part social commentary, part Irish realism, all modern and astute.

Liz Nugent

If you like dark novels, Liz is your woman. A former producer at RTE, her books are about awful events and how they affect the families involved.

Cecelia Ahern

Gaining worldwide fame for PS I Love You, her novels since have had more than a touch of magic about them.


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