Thursday, 11 February 2016

Margaret Forster: Five Favourites

It was a really sad thing to learn of the death of Margaret Forster this week. The death of someone famous, someone you didn’t know personally, is always a strange thing but the death of a writer is particularly odd. As writers, you’re not well acquainted with their face or their character or their biography but what you do have is their words. Since I discovered Forster’s books in my late teens it has felt like I’ve had a communication with her and her most intimate ideas. I was attracted to the way she wrote about women, often difficult women who didn’t immediately endear themselves to the reader. She wrote about ordinary and extraordinary women. She wrote about mothers, sisters, daughters and wives and how these roles are so often complicated by a desire for self-discovery and freedom. Her prolificacy meant I was never in short supply of her work, and there is still so many of her books I’m yet to read – that is a comfort. Here are five of my favourite Forster books that I hope you’ll be inspired to read.
  • Keeping the World Away
In my favourite of all Forster’s novels she explores ideas of femininity through the life of a painting. Through the lives of six women, one of them Gwen John - the artist at the heart of the story - and a journey through time, Forster explores creativity and what finding happiness for yourself means.
  • Georgy Girl
Georgy Girl centres around Georgina, a misfit in London of the swinging sixties. I love all the characters in this: from the acidic Meredith to predatory socialite James. At the crux of the story is what it means to be a single mother – a theme Forster returned to in other novels.
  • Significant Sisters
Forster’s non-fiction style was equally as elegant and lively as her novels. Through compelling biographies, she explores how eight women forged change for women and formed the foundation for feminism. The highlight of the book for me is the chapter on Josephine Butler, a campaigner for prostitutes who Forster brings to the page with empathy and vitality.
  • Private Papers
This was the first of Forster’s books I read and it makes a great introduction to the themes that prevail in her work- memory, family and motherhood. It tells the story of a mother and her four daughters and how perspectives on the past can cause clarity in the present. I adore the way she captures the relationships between sisters.
  • Lady’s Maid
Forster was able to gleam the poignancy in historical evidence and weave relatable characters from it with ease. Lady’s Maid is the perfect example of this. She explores the life of Elizabeth Barret Browning through the eyes of Elizabeth Wilson, her maid. It is full of domestic detail, touching friendships and beautiful prose.
Were you a fan of Margaret Forster? Which of her books resonated with you?


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