Since Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl hit shelves in 2012, novels about manipulative women have been a big hit with publishers and readers. Frequently domestic thrillers where the women go missing or are involved in a murder after an issue at home. It’s not the first or last time that the publishing industry takes a single idea and runs with it. Remember all those vampire, young-adult dystopia, and kinky romance novels? Those trends may have died down, but domestic thrillers with female leads have been and remain hot. In 2016, Time Magazine said that the year was shaping up to be, “the biggest year for ‘girls’ in fiction in decades, with nearly one percent of fiction titles featuring the word ‘girl’ in the title.” So if you’re looking for your next novel idea, take some cues from the titles below.
Here are some other books that fit the category:
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was published in 2015, three years after Gone Girl. This was pitched many times as “the next Gone Girl”, capitalizing on the publishing industry’s desire to compare new books to a massive success. The two do share a few similarities: they were both turned into movies, they both feature unreliable narrators, and both are psychological thrillers. While Gone Girl is about the dissolution of a marriage and a missing woman, The Girl on the Train is about a woman who watches a domestic abuse situation from her train car and tries to figure out what happened. But can she be trusted? Her ex-husband – and her history of alcoholism – say no.
- All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda was published in 2016. It is, as the name suggests, also about a girl who goes missing, and the woman who has to find her. This one has a twist: it’s told in reverse, from day fifteen of the search to day one. The reader is kept on their toes throughout because the story is told backwards.
- Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (2015) begins 24 years after the disappearance of Julia. No one knows what happened to her, and in the aftermath, her family fell apart. A second family murder brings the two living sisters – now estranged – back together, and they’re plunged into another investigation.
- Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, also published in 2015, is about a woman who reinvent herself after a high school tragedy. But when the past comes back to invade her new, seemingly perfect life, everyone around her sees that she’s still as manipulative as ever.
These books often center on an isolated female character who either uses her charm and deception to succeed or her will to face horrible truths. The fundamentals of these books are the same: a woman is pushed to the breaking point and forced to reckon with what she is capable of. Some can feel like they were written to fit a recipe of, “manipulative woman, a tragic event, and a number of flashbacks”, and then topped off with the word ‘girl’ in the title. The word ‘girl’ is key. The study referenced by Time Magazine found that 65% of the time, the book’s title referred to a woman, rather than a girl, but by using ‘girl,’ the title suggests to the reader more vulnerability and innocence.
It’s a new-ish take on suspense novels, but one that is working out of a formula. But these female roles aren’t as new as you might think. Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth was as power-hungry and manipulative as her husband, and Jane Austen wrote Northhanger Abbey,the BFF-Turned-Enemy novel, way back in 1818. Consider taking a tip from something old and something new, and maybe you’ll tweak the formula just enough to start your own trend.