The fightback against male domination of serious literature is on – and women are winning battle after battle

Time was when we knew where we were with books. Big, important men wrote big, important masterworks about science, politics and history that, if enough people bought them, would swiftly be absorbed into the canon. Women writers, meanwhile, were viewed as niche and thus awarded their own specialist categories, among them “romance”, “chick-lit” and “women’s fiction” – let the record show that there is no such thing as “men’s fiction”. These books would invariably come swathed in frou-frou pastel-hued jackets with swirly writing lest people – OK, men – mistake them for works to be taken seriously.