The ~Strange Woman~ Reading List

In an attempt to define the ever-elusive ~Strange Woman~, we’ve been posting some literature on our Instagram that encircles the concept that Catatonic Daughters loves:

Self Portrait In Green by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump
Obsessed by her encounters with the mysterious green women, and haunted by the Garonne River, a nameless narrator seeks them out in La Roele, Paris, Marseille, and Ouagadougou. Each encounter reveals different aspects of the women; real or imagined, dead or alive, seductive or suicidal, driving the narrator deeper into her obsession, in this unsettling exploration of identity, memory and paranoia. Self Portrait in Green is the multi-prize winning, Marie NDiaye’s brilliant subversion of the memoir. Written in diary entries, with lyrical prose and dreamlike imagery, we start with and return to the river, which mirrors the narrative by posing more questions than it answers.

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
It’s winter in Sokcho, a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea. The cold slows everything down. Bodies are red and raw, the fish turn venomous, beyond the beach guns point out from the North’s watchtowers. A young French Korean woman works as a receptionist in a tired guesthouse. One evening, an unexpected guest arrives: a French cartoonist determined to find inspiration in this desolate landscape. The two form an uneasy relationship. When she agrees to accompany him on trips to discover an ‘authentic’ Korea, they visit snowy mountaintops and dramatic waterfalls, and cross into North Korea. But he takes no interest in the Sokcho she knows – the gaudy neon lights, the scars of war, the fish market where her mother works. As she’s pulled into his vision and taken in by his drawings, she strikes upon a way to finally be seen. An exquisitely-crafted debut, which won the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a novel about shared identities and divided selves, vision and blindness, intimacy and alienation.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
In her provocative debut, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the mysterious green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague spreads across the earth. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery about a store’s dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted house guest. A dark, shimmering slice into womanhood, Her Body and Other Parties is wicked and exquisite.

Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
Irina obsessively takes explicit photographs of the average-looking men she persuades to model for her, scouted from the streets of Newcastle. Placed on sabbatical from her dead-end bar job, she is offered an exhibition at a fashionable London gallery, promising to revive her career in the art world and offering an escape from her rut of drugs, alcohol, and extreme cinema. The news triggers a self-destructive tailspin, centred around Irina’s relationship with her obsessive best-friend, and a shy young man from her local supermarket who has attracted her attention… Boy Parts is the incendiary debut novel from Eliza Clark, a pitch-black comedy both shocking and hilarious, fearlessly exploring the taboo regions of sexuality and gender roles in the twenty-first century.

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine
When a college graduate with a history of hapless jobs (ice cream scooper; gift wrapper; laziest ever part-time clerk at The Pet Library) reads Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, she is dumbstruck by the timid design of her life. When had she ever dreamed a scheme? When had she ever done a foolish, over-bold act? When had she ever, like Jim Hawkins, broke from her friends, raced for the beach, stolen a boat, killed a man, and eliminated an obstacle that stood in the way of her getting a hunk of gold? Convinced that Stevenson’s book is cosmically intended for her, she redesigns her life according to its Core Values: boldness, resolution, independence and horn-blowing. Accompanied by her mother, her sister, and a hostile Amazon parrot that refuses to follow the script, our heroine embarks on a domestic adventure more frightening than anything she’d originally planned. Treasure Island!!! is the story of a ferocious obsession, told by an new and utterly original voice. It is intelligent, perverse, funny, relentlessly self-extricating, and merciless in its vivisection of family dynamics in today’s America.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree.
Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.