John Boyne says 'women are better novelists than men'

John Boyne says 'women are better novelists than men'

Novelist and short story writer John Boyne has claimed "women are better novelists than men". 

Boyne's comments were made as part of an opinion piece for the Guardian addressing the irrational dismissal of female writers, including by prominent male authors such as the Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, who in the past has said he doesn’t read or teach novels by women because of their tendency towards "sentimentality".

While Boyne conceded he himself was obviously making "an enormous generalisation" by asserting women make better writers, he called it "no more ludicrous than some half-wit proudly claiming never to read books by women".

He argued women writers were all too often sidelined, through their branding or by receiving fewer reviews than men. He noted only this summer an unnamed literary festival hailed a trio of established male writers "giants of world literature" whereas a panel of female writers "of equal stature" were described in the programme as merely "wonderful stroytellers". Meanwhile he said he knew women writers who have had to "fight tooth and nail" to stop publishers jacketing their books with "a bare-legged girl lying on her back in a field of hay, laughing her pretty little head off while holding a forget-me-not".

Women make better writers than men because they "understand human nature more clearly, a necessity if one is trying to create authentic characters", Boyne argued. They "have a better grasp of human complexity" and are better able to depict both genders, he said.

"My female friends, for example, seem to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in men’s heads most of the time. My male friends, on the other hand, haven’t got a clue what’s going on in women’s," he said.

He went on to say: "I’ve grown weary of reading novels by men that portray women in one of four categories: the angelic virgin who manages to tame some quixotic lothario who’s spread so many wild oats that he has shares in Quaker; the pestering harpy who nags her boyfriend or husband, sucking all the fun out of his life; the slut who eventually gets murdered as payback for her wanton ways; the catalyst who is only there to prompt the man’s actions and is therefore not a human being at all, just a plot device. I find female writers are much more incisive in their writing of men, recognising that several billion people cannot be simply reduced to a few repetitive strains."

Addressing male arrogance as another factor, he also argued: "Many male writers, particularly younger ones, approach their work as if they – and not the books – are what’s important. They obsess about establishing a reputation, while ignoring the importance of just writing something good."

After having read 113 books in 2017 in a roughly 50/50 gender split, the "best" of these in his opinion were written by women, notably novelists Min Jin Lee, Polly Clark, Elizabeth Day, Molly McCloskey, Gail Honeyman, Kamila Shamsie, Francesca Segal and Celeste Ng, and non-fiction author and violinist Min Kym.

To help reset the perceived gender imbalance in publishing, publishers were challenged by writer Kamila Shamsie to publish only women in 2018, the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote in the UK. Two independent publishers, And Other Stories and Tilted Axis Press, have confirmed they intend to follow through on their commitment.