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26 Must-Read Sapphic & Lesbian Novels

Lesbian authors are paving the way when it comes to genre and boundary pushing, writing dark and toxic love stories and unlikeable women protagonists.

When looking at lesbian novels and the art put out by lesbian authors, you see the darkest kinds of gothic fiction, as well as the brightest dedications to love and kindness. Whatever genre you love, from historical fiction to tales of sea monsters, and love crossing time and space there’s something for you here.

lesbian novels

Essential Lesbian Novels

Some of these lesbian novels are dark and twisted; others are celebrations of queer love in the face of patriarchy. Some are in translation from other languages; others are forging new paths for well-trodden genres. What unites them all is their sheer quality. These are essential lesbian novels by some of the best women writers of today.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

our wives under the sea

Julia Armfield made an enormous splash with her debut short story collection, Salt Slow. When she followed that with a staggering work of modern gothic fiction in Our Wives Under the Sea it quickly became clear how special her writing really is.

Our Wives Under the Sea is a gothic tale told from two perspectives; and one that explores the concepts of loss and grief from a frighteningly original angle.

Miri’s wife Leah set out on an expedition to the bottom of the sea in a cramped submarine. What should have been weeks turned to months, and when Leah eventually returned, she was different. Leah’s chapters blend the Lovecraftian with the Kafkaesque as we sink slowly with her, and we see what’s down there beneath everything.

Miri’s chapters follow her as she tries to live with, and fails to care for, the returned and broken Leah. A new Leah who barely speaks and behaves in strange and frightening ways. Miri is grieving the loss of her wife, confronted with the fact that whatever has returned is not Leah.

This is a lesbian novel that forces the reader to confront the idea of grief and how it might present itself. It’s a tale of love and loss and loneliness and isolation. A truly original gothic novel.

Watch our full video review of Our Wives Under the Sea

Buy a copy of Our Wives here!

After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

after sappho

After Sappho is the novelisation of a web of interconnected lives: queer women from around the turn of the 20th Century who pushed feminism and queer experiences into the limelight. This is one of the most kind, hopeful, and inspiring lesbian novels you could ever hope to read and enjoy.

We begin in Italy before tracing multiple threads across France, England, Ireland, and across to the US. The women here were all real: artists, writers, actors, philosophers, and travellers. Some you will be familiar with; others you won’t. All of them were inspired by Sappho, and in turn inspired one another to move, act, shake the world, and turn the status quo on its head.

These are women who didn’t conform to gender roles and expectations, who loved other women, who spoke out and inspired the women and queer people around them. The novel is told out of order, in small vignettes that traces these lives over and again; we move through time and across borders to paint a picture of change, growth and love. Beautiful, genius, and perfect.

Buy a copy of After Sappho here!

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

Translated from the Mandarin by Bonnie Huie

notes of a crocodile

Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile is a few things: it is one of the quintessential Taiwanese novels of the twentieth century; it is also one of the most prominent and powerful lesbian novels of the past few decades. Separated into a series of notebooks, Notes of a Crocodile tracks the university years of a queer Taiwanese student who goes by the name Lazi.

Lazi is tormented by her love for a woman in the year above; their relationship is tumultuous and aggressive. She also spends time in queer circles populated by other emotionally unhealthy young people. This is a visceral tale of personal hatred and acceptance, of love and lust and danger. Reminiscent of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human, this Taiwanese novel rips you apart unapologetically.

Buy a copy of Notes of a Crocodile here

Lucky Red by Claudia Cravens

lucky red claudia cravens

Lucky Red is a historical sapphic novel set in the American Wild West of the late 19th century. Our protagonist, Bridget, is a beautiful young redhead whose childhood was plagued with bad luck, to say the least.

Bridget was raised by her dumb and useless father, who sold their house for nothing much at all. While on the road together, they take shelter and he is bitten and killed by a snake. Alone, Bridget wanders until she reaches the frontier town of Dodge, Kansas. There, she is taken in by the kind women of the Buffalo Queen brothel, where she works and finds a community.

She takes to the work well, enjoys having food and shelter, and builds strong bonds with the other women. And soon enough, she realises that men are work but women are what she loves and craves. Her first crush is a fellow sex worker, and her second is an infamous female gunslinger with whom she falls in deeply in love.

Lucky Red is a sapphic novel about sex, lust, love, and the bonds between women and small communities in a dangerous, difficult, hard world.

Buy a copy of Lucky Red here!

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

the gracekeepers

A special and beautifully written book that subtly evokes Scottish folklore while building an original and highly creative world. On a floating circus, in a world divided between those who live on land or at sea, North dances with her beloved bear, betrothed against her will to the ringmaster’s son. However, she’s harboring a secret that could destroy everything.

Meanwhile, Callanish, exiled to a solitary lighthouse, tends to the graves of those lost at sea. A chance encounter sparks a magnetic bond between the two women, offering the promise of a new life together. Perilous waters threaten to tear them apart. If you love theatrical and whimsical books then prepare to fall in love with this novel and its vibrant and endearing ensemble.

Buy a copy of The Gracekeepers here

Love Me Tender by Constance Debré

Translated from the French by Holly James

Love Me Tender by Constance Debré

Like so many great sapphic and lesbian novels, Love Me Tender is a brash and punk piece of lesbian liberation.

Our protagonist is forty-seven, and three years ago she separated from her husband of twenty years when she realised she was gay. Now, she lives in a small studio flat in Paris, spending her days swimming, reading, getting new tattoos, writing in cafes, and sleeping with women. A life of freedom and hedonism.

What complicates this is the fact that she has a son, Paul, whom her homophobic ex-husband is weaponising against her. At just 160 pages, Love Me Tender is a novel that explores queer liberation and the ways in which heteronormativity, bigotry, traditionalism, and family can all feel like ghosts, shackles, stalkers, and abusers.

Our protagonist is a complex woman; from one angle she seems selfishly carefree, and is clearly suffering for that. From another, she’s enjoying her lesbian liberation. This is punk literature, through and through, and one of the most raw and exciting lesbian novels of recent years.

Buy a copy of Love Me Tender here!

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

pizza girl

Pizza Girl is a coming-of-age story about an 18-year-old pregnant pizza delivery girl named Pizza Girl (she is never given a real name) who becomes obsessed with a stay-at-home mom named Jenny whom she delivers pizza to.

When we meet Pizza Girl, she is grieving the death of her alcoholic father, avoiding her supportive mom and loving boyfriend, and flagrantly ignoring her future. She feels more in common with her dead father than she does with anyone else in her life.

As Pizza Girl and Jenny’s relationship deepens, she begins to question her own identity. She is attracted to Jenny, but she is also deeply afraid of becoming her. She sees in Jenny the future that she herself could have if she doesn’t make some changes in her life. This novel beautifully explores themes of identity, motherhood, obsession, grief, and loss and you truly feel devasted for her as the book goes on.

Buy a copy of Pizza Girl here

Boulder by Eva Baltasar

Translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches

boulder eva baltasar

Accomplished and celebrated Catalan poet Eva Baltasar has here written a raw and tender novella about love and pain, and how too often they are one and the same.

Our protagonist, nicknamed Boulder by her geologist girlfriend, spends her days floating from job to job. She’s a cook, and when we meet her she’s working on a ship at sea. Boulder is cold and uncaring; she’s as harsh and unforgiving as the sea upon which she currently works. But when she meets Samsa, she softens and gives into her lust and love for her.

The two move to Reykjavik, and Boulder eventually finds some success opening up a Spanish food truck. Life is solid, good, reliable, stable. Until Samsa, almost forty, insists that she wants a child and it must happen now, before it’s too late for her. Boulder doesn’t want to lose her, so she gives in and agrees.

We watch Boulder struggle with having a pregnant partner, and later a child she never wanted. This sapphic novel is told entirely from the perspective of Boulder, as a kind of diary, as she does nothing but voice her thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

It’s a sensual novel, but also a painfully raw and angry one. Queer and punk, this is one of the most harrowing and powerful lesbian novels you’re ever likely to read.

Buy a copy of Boulder here!

Mrs. S by K. Patrick

mrs s k patrick

Set in an old-fashioned boarding school, Mrs. S tells the story of a nameless Australian who has moved to England for work. There, she meets the headmaster’s wife, the titular Mrs. S, and begins a journey of growing obsession.

Our protagonist is unsure of herself. She wears a binder and enjoys being seen as masculine, but she doesn’t have the language to express how she feels or what she wants for herself. She identifies as a lesbian and begins to see Mrs. S as more than an object of obsession — perhaps this beautiful, charming woman might be able to guide our protagonist to her true self, unlock something in her.

Mrs. S has a very specific and rare style of presentation: run-on sentences and paragraphs that don’t differentiate between narration and dialogue.

Characters are named for their jobs and no proper nouns are used. The all-female school’s student body is described as a faceless mass which K. Patrick simply refers to as The Girls. This makes the characters and setting feel as though they are floating in a vacuum, outside of time and space. This is a nowhere place in which our protagonist is trapped, trying to understand herself and what she wants.

Her obsession with Mrs. S grows. She is lustful, jealous, curious, and eager to know this woman better, despite not knowing herself at all. Mrs. S is an answer, a distraction, a muse, so many things to her. There are few novels as captivating, intimate, claustrophobic, and sensual as Mrs. S; a true modern masterpiece amongst the best sapphic and lesbian novels.

Buy a copy of Mrs. S here!

Chlorine by Jade Song

chlorine jade song

Chlorine is a sapphic coming-of-age story inspired by the author’s own experience as a competitive swimmer.

Our protagonist, Ren, is a Chinese-American girl with a deep love for swimming. We learn from the beginning that she is telling her story after having somehow transformed into a mermaid. We follow Ren as she grows through her teen years, experiencing puberty, sex, depression, friendship, and crises. All the while her friend Cathy, who holds a deep romantic love for Ren, remains by her side.

Occasionally, the narrative switches to Cathy’s perspective, expressed via letters which she has been casting out to sea in the hopes that they will reach the mermaid Ren.

The build up to Ren’s supposed transformation is one fraught with feelings of pain, stress, disappointment, dysphoria, violence, and more. The metaphor being played with can be interpreted in a variety of ways, as one which explores a general sense of truth and honesty, or more specifically feelings of dysphoria, sexual repression, and freedom from society.

This is a raw and difficult coming-of-age story, a tale of sapphic love and self-hatred. A story of frustration and pain; a difficult read that tackles many difficult themes with honesty and empathy.

Buy a copy of Chlorine here!

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

milk fed melissa broder

Melissa Broder leads the charge of unlikeable protagonists and difficult characters, especially amongst women writers. Historically, men are allowed to be unlikeable. Nobody bats an eye when male characters behave in an unlikeable way; and yet Melissa Broder stirs up a lot of ill feelings in certain readers by simply making her women complex, broken, selfish, distant, and difficult.

After the success of The Pisces, she brought us Milk Fed, one of the most daring and original lesbian novels of the last few years.

Milk Fed‘s protagonist is Rachel, a young Jewish woman from New Jersey who lives in LA and works at a talent agency while spending her nights doing stand-up comedy. Rachel has a lot of mummy issues that have instilled in her a lifelong and crippling obsession with calorie counting and weight watching.

Soon, Rachel meets Miriam: an overweight orthodox Jewish woman who loves food and loves her family. She is everything Rachel isn’t, and she soon becomes an unhealthy obsession for Rachel. Rachel lusts after Miriam, is inspired by her attitude towards life, and builds fantasies of sexual desire around her.

Milk Fed is one of the most daring and exciting lesbian novels of recent years.

Watch our full video review of Milk Fed

Buy a copy of Milk Fed here!

X by Davey Davis

x davey davis

X is a sexy, kinky noir story about a non-binary lesbian searching the clubs and dungeons of Brooklyn for the elusive, enigmatic X. Our protagonist, Lee, spends their days working a corporate job and their nights going to punk shows, hooking up with people, and engaging in some amateur sadism.

Despite being a dom, Lee had a particularly exciting masochistic encounter with X a few weeks ago, and now they can think of nothing else but finding X again. However, the US government is systematically deporting immigrants, refugees, and queers, and Lee has heard rumour that X is about to be deported as well.

We spend the novel getting to know Lee, their life, their friends, their kinks, and their childhood traumas, all while we follow them on their hunt for X. This is a very exciting book amongst lesbian novels that really leans on kink. It’s bleak at times, occasionally funny, and unapologetically raw.

Buy a copy of X here!

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey

Biography of X is an insightful and harrowing exploration of narcissism and its devastating impact on the lives of others, set against a dystopian backdrop that enriches the story and provides a unique perspective on the protagonist’s development.

After X, a renowned artist and writer, dies suddenly, her widow CM sets out to write a biography, uncovering a Pandora’s box of secrets and betrayals as she goes. We viscerally experience the obsession, disbelief, and anger CM feels as she uncovers X’s hidden past from her collaborations with Bowie and Waits to her hidden past in the fascist Southern Territory.

Biography of X is a roaring epic that plumbs the depths of grief, art, and love, introducing us to an unforgettable character who shows us the fallibility of the stories we craft for ourselves. While the pacing occasionally lags, the novel remains a compelling and thought-provoking read, and is a must for fans of challenging sapphic literature.

Buy a copy of Biography of X here

Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval

Translated from the Norwegian by Marjam Idriss

paradise rot

Written by internationally acclaimed Norwegian musician Jenny Hval, Paradise Rot is a short, visceral, sensual novel about desire, temptation, and the human body. Textured, loud, coarse, and raw, Paradise Rot obsesses over the beautiful and the gross aspects of the female form: what it’s made of, what it creates, how it thrives, and how it decays.

Our protagonist is a young Norwegian woman named Jo who has just moved to a new country to attend university. She moves into a converted brewery and lives with a local woman. This shared space has no real borders; flimsy plywood walls create half-formed rooms and secrecy is non-existent.

These women obsess over each other, give into temptation, make each other jealous, and sexually awaken in each other’s company. This novel is alive, pulling the senses into focus and demanding your attention, even as it behaves in an alluringly crass and gross way. A truly addictive lesbian novel.

Buy a copy of Paradise Rot here!

Solo Dance by Li Kotomi

Translated from the Japanese by Arthur Reiji Morris

solo dance li kotomi

Few lesbian novels hit as hard as Solo Dance. Written by Taiwanese-born, Japan-based author Li Kotomi, Solo Dance follows a similar protagonist. Cho Norie grew up in Taiwan and left for Tokyo to pursue a master’s degree, learn the language, and get a job.

However, Norie is horribly depressed, carries heavy trauma, and obsesses over death. She reads the works of novelists who took their own lives and struggles to hide her sexuality for fear of being harassed. As a child, Norie lost a friend. At university, she suffered abuse. Now, as an adult working a corporate job in Tokyo, she struggles with day-to-day life as a lesbian immigrant in Japan.

If you are a queer person who has ever suffered (or feared) abuse, you will relate strongly to Norie and her experiences. You’ll find in her a companion, and perhaps even catharsis through how she struggles and grows and lives.

Solo Dance is not an easy book to read, but it is an extremely rewarding one. It illuminates, especially to cishet readers, the eggshells that LGBTQ+ people walk on every day. It also leans towards hope in the third act, but you have to go through a lot to get there.

Ultimately, queer readers who have faced depression and anxiety will find a friend and a companion in Norie. Solo Dance is one of the best lesbian novels you’ll ever read. Thank you, Li Kotomi.

Buy a copy of Solo Dance here!

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

a dowry of blood

A Dowry of Blood is a gothic romance for the ages. S.T. Gibson has gifted us the story of the cursed marriage between Dracula and his bride Constanta.

We learn on the very first page that Constanta will eventually kill her sire, but we must read on to see how this happens, and the centuries that pass in the meantime. This is a novel dripping with blood, love, and lust. Animal aggression and burning passion.

Soon enough, a second bride joins their marriage. a Spanish woman who becomes a source of burning desire for Constanta. She loves her like nobody else, and it’s their love that plays a part in Dracula’s undoing. The love, lust, and longing laced into this novel is spectacular. There is so much hate and spite and venom to enjoy as well, as with any good gothic romance.

Buy a copy of A Dowry of Blood here!

Night Shift by Kiare Ladner

Night Shift Kiare Ladner

In Night Shift, author Kiare Ladner paints a gritty picture of late-90s London. Here’s one of the grimiest and gnarly lesbian novels you’re likely to read; fiercely literary and often bleak, Night Shift will twist you as you grow more and more obsessed with its characters and their lives.

Our protagonist is Meggie, a young woman who presumes herself straight until she falls into an obsessive and unhealthy friendship with sexy Belgian Sabine. Meggie works night shifts and spends as much of her days as possible with her boyfriend, Graham, but Sabine steadily shows Meggie a different side of London, work, and life. Meggie is happy to go along for the ride as she questions and explores her sexuality.

Sabine represents possibility, mystery, new experiences, and a new way for Meggie to spend her days. She is intoxicating and illuminating. She is everything Meggie didn’t know she wanted to be, could be, and might yet be. Night Shift is one of the harshest, raw, and punk lesbian novels of today.

Buy a copy of Night Shift here!

Read More: Best Queer Graphic Novels and Manga

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

the confessions of frannie langton

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is one of the boldest and most beautiful lesbian novels. Sara Collins’ debut novel is an homage to the gothic classics while also representing a bright and exciting new direction for the gothic genre as she places a Black lesbian front and centre.

This is a piece of genre fiction that gives readers everything they could want: an enticing mystery, an epic tale of freedom and love, an exciting historical context, an homage to the Brontës, and a tragic lesbian love story led by gothic fiction’s first Black female protagonist.

The titular Frannie Langton was born on a plantation in Jamaica, where she learns to read and write. From there, she moves to London and works in the house of a rich couple. After falling in love with Mrs Benham, however, she is put on trial for her murder. But did she do it? This is her story; these are the confessions of Frannie Langton.

Buy a copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton here!

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This is How You Lose the Time War

An abstract and beautifully lyrical sapphic love story unfolding through unique letters sent across time and space.

Two rival agents named Red and Blue come from opposite sides of warring factions of a time war and fall in love through the course of this novella. Their love grows through taunting letters that they leave for each other, and these letters appear anywhere and everywhere; from Shakespeare’s London to a far-flung alien war between warring mechs.

This is How You Lose the Time War is highly poetic and may not be for you if you prefer a structured plot and world-building, but this unstructured approach lends itself well to emphasising the fractured yearning and tenderness between these two agents.

The co-writing of This is How You Lose the Time War also means that the two agents have very distinct voices and personalities which makes their love all the more endearing. Beyond being a warming sapphic love story, this is also one of the best sci-fi novels of all time.

Buy a copy of How You Lose the Time War here!

The Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Winner of numerous awards, this beloved poignant lesbian novel is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1954, during the Red Scare, when openly exploring queerness isn’t an option.

Protagonist Lily secretly gathers photos of women with masculine qualities, is drawn toward ‘unfeminine; clothing and interests, and slowly recognises her lesbianism with her budding connection to Kathleen Miller, a white classmate. Last Night at the Telegraph Club seamlessly incorporates cultural touchstones and places with historic Chinese American significance alongside a beautiful and touching sapphic love story.

The inclusion of Mandarin and Cantonese language in the text with footnote translations was also a nice touch.

Buy a copy of Last Night at the Telegraph Club here!

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre

the adventures of china iron

In the great library of lesbian novels, never has there been such a glorious, unshackled celebration of queer love. The Adventures of China Iron is an Argentinian novel that laughs in the face of patriarchy and heteronormativity. It is a wild and wonderful ride from beginning to end.

The titular China Iron is still young, yet she has seen much tragedy. She was married to and then abandoned by a singer. She gave birth at age fourteen and gave her children up. Now, her story begins anew. At the novel’s outset, China meets Liz, a Scottish woman exploring the plains of Argentina. The two quickly fall deeply in love and head out on a wild journey together.

The Adventures of China Iron celebrates lesbian love, sex, and intimacy. It shrugs off the touch of men and shows the reader just how beautiful and alive queer love is. Few lesbian novels were written to be guiltlessly enjoyed this much. What a work of art.

Read our full written review of The Adventures of China Iron

Buy a copy of The Adventure of China Iron here!

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

The Colour Purple Alice Walker

Currently the only work featuring a lesbian relationship written by a woman to win a Pulitzer, this epistolary novel is a true classic that spans twenty years of protagonist Celie’s life.

It’s a beautifully written and important novel that can be difficult to read at times due to the subject matter, while explicitly a lesbian novel The Color Purple also tackles race, class, gender, sexual assault, domestic abuse, religion, and the South in the early 1900s.

Told through a series of letters to ‘God’ (and later her sister Nettie in Africa), Celie is fourteen at the beginning of the novel and is being physically and sexually abused by her father — she is desperately trying to protect her sister from a similar fate.

Later we are privy to the events of Celie’s abusive forced marriage to ‘Mister’ and also her developing relationship with Shug, Mister’s mistress, who shows her love and intimacy for the first time. It’s a very human book that will definitely stay with you.

Buy a copy of The Color Purple here!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

fingersmith sarah waters

One of the most popular Sarah Waters novels for good reason, the twists and turns in this book just don’t let up and just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, the rug is pulled from under your feet. If you have seen Park Chan’Wook’s Handmaiden film which is based on Fingersmith and think you will be prepared for the events of this novel don’t be fooled, the film deviates from the book in a big way at the end of part one.

This is an addictive read and at no point feels slow despite being a bigger novel. Protagonist Sue Trinder is raised by a group of scam artists in Victorian London and finds herself drafted into a plan to steal a fortune from an unmarried, rich young woman named Maud Lilly.

Things are never as straightforward as they seem, however. If you enjoy historical fiction or simply want a lesbian novel with endless backstabbing, revenge, and twists then Fingersmith is the one for you.

Buy a copy of Fingersmith here!

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

From the author of the highly successful Red, White & Royal Blue, we have another light-hearted and witty romance novel that successfully captures the fizzing energy of meeting someone for the first time and knowing that they are your person.

Unfortunately, when August meets Jane on the subway, it is not a straightforward romance since Jane is displaced in time from the 1970s and August has to help her. The interesting concept of One Last Stop offers a lot of insight into historic queer culture across the US during the 70s and keeps you hooked as you get more and more invested in a happy ending for these cute lovers.

Buy a copy of One Last Stop here!

House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson

house of hunger

Alexis Henderson’s second novel House of Hunger is a tumble into a frightening gothic fantasy world that gently shifts from grim and gory to sexy and sapphic as the pages turn.

Set in a fantasy world reminiscent of Victorian Britain, our protagonist Marion is a twenty-year-old maid living in the slums of a smog-filled city. Sick of her work as a maid to a cruel woman, and going home each night to a sick and cruel brother, she answers an advertisement for a new blood maid.

Blood maids are women who serve the powerful houses of the North, where counts and countesses believe that drinking the blood of others can help with their maladies. As she rises through the ranks of blood maids at the House of Hunger, the relationship between Marion and her countess blossoms into something far more intimate and romantic, though it remains frightening and unstable.

Buy a copy of House of Hunger here!

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet Sarah Waters

A lesbian book list wouldn’t be complete without another offering from Sarah Waters, just as beloved as Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet is another historical novel set in the late Victorian period.

The setting of this novel is delicious, treating us to an imagined lesbian cabaret underworld as we follow Nancy from the sleepy seaside town of Whistable to London as she pursues her lover Kitty. This book has a real sense of place, and it’s difficult not to be fully present in the world Sarah is creating even if you are not fully invested in the characters who can be unlikeable at times.

Buy a copy of Tipping the Velvet here!

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