Book review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay


Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (first published in 2017 by Corsair)

TW: sexual violence

I first heard about Roxane Gay through a TED talk she did called Confessions of A Bad Feminist. I thought she was witty, funny and insightful. I knew she was a writer and I badly wanted to read some of her work so that I could delve into the mind of a woman who isn’t afraid to talk about other women and their struggles. 

Then I found out that Difficult Women had been released and I immediately wanted to get my hands on a copy so I could drink in the words of someone who seems to be on their way to becoming an icon of the feminist community. 

And I was pleasantly surprised by her stories, all of which encompassed a different kind of woman and a different story behind each of them, but each story also had a strong chord of unrelenting strength and femininity. 

If sexual violence is a trigger for you, you might not want to read this book as it is a major theme in many of the stories. 

This is difficult to read, but also important. 

Gay highlights all the different ways women can have their sexuality turned against them, in some cases before they were even old enough to properly understand it. 

There are many kinds of women in this book and each of them with their own set of difficulties and presenting their own way of being difficult - whether it’s by rejecting a man’s advances or using a man as a means of distraction from her pain. 

These women are flawed and full of airs and graces, but they’re real women. Even in the shortest of stories (some of which are only two pages long) you know that these characters are real and they are fully formed. 

The stories vary from the all too familiar and very real, to the fantastical and far-fetched with stories of a woman who is followed by water all her life and how it seeps into everything and creates mould wherever she goes, then there is a woman who is made of glass and married to man who is made of flesh. 

Sex and violence are strongly intertwined in these short stories. In one story, a woman who is recovering from the death of her child has her boyfriend beat her during sex so that she cannot feel the pain of her emotional turmoil. 

In another, a woman has sex with her husband next to the corpse of a deer they have just killed. 

Gay is a great storyteller and engages her reader with ease. She captures the awfulness of violence, the fragility of love and the anger of being oppressed beautifully in each story. 

These stories challenged me as a reader, made me want to be a better writer and an even better feminist. 

Purchase a copy of the book from

WATCH: An evening with Roxane Gay

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