The world is full of difficult people. Perhaps you know some? (Laughing emoji)
These people may be a weed in our lawn of life (as my husband likes to say) but in fiction, they make for great characters and interesting reading. Characters who are mischievous, selfish, unstable, irrational, those who lack self-control, those who are just plain strange, are complex, hence interesting. In fiction, as in life, these are the people who tend to draw us in for a closer look. After all, if everyone was nice and stable, without flaws or foibles, what a boring world it would be. Same with books.
Here are a few of my favourite characters, warts and all.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
I’m a huge fan of Strout and her laser-like focus into the hearts of her characters. Her novels often feature recurring characters, such as Olive Kitteridge, a blunt, emotionally stunted woman. Always a handful, Olive struggles to understand the people around her, but often her emotional moodiness is exhausting. Strout’s ability to dig into her characters’ psyches is on full display as she proves again she is a mastery of observation.
O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker
This gothic tale of a teenage girl’s last few years of life in a Scottish manse with her awful parents is an outstanding propulsive novel. A misfit from birth she was not the pretty, sweet girl her first little sister was, or her pleasant-natured other siblings. Even her mother was slightly repulsed by her. But Janet related mostly to the fora and fauna of the Highlands, especially the jackdaw who followed her everywhere. An outstanding novel, and the only one Barker, an esteemed journalist who passed away last year, ever wrote.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Frances is a cool 21-year-old student with a wry sense of humour and a complex emotional life. Chronicling her relationships with her best friend and sometime lover, her other lover and his wife, Frances’s bemused flirtations lead to an enlightened understanding of herself and others. She’s not always easy, or likable, but always entertaining.
The Birdwatcher by Gayl Jones
A reissue of a novel set on the island of Ibiza, it features a trio of expat characters: Amanda, our narrator, a writer; her friend Catherine, a sculptor; and her husband, Ernest. Catherine has a history of mental illness and tries repeatedly to kill Ernest, although he is staunchly committed to her. The three form a quickly triangle on the white-washed island.
Jones, the novelist Toni Morrison discovered decades ago, has been described as one of the great literary writers of the 20th century. Now, for the first time in over 20 years, Jones is publishing again.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This complex novel is often cited as one of literature’s greatest, but there are some who deem Anna’s abandonment of her child to be so unforgivable that it blots out everything else. Its major themes of hypocrisy, faith, fidelity, and passion, are brilliantly portrayed by Anna’s irrational emotional behavior that leads ultimately to her doom. What would literature be if not for great heroines who commit unforgivable acts?
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Of course, there is no character quite as repulsive as aging Hubert Humbert who has an obsessive, devouring and doomed passion for the nymphet, Dolores Haze. The hero who never deludes or excuses himself, brings not only a sense of horror, but a measure of tragic satire that makes it one of literature’s most original stories.
There are so many more - characters who possess an evil spirit, who commit unspeakable acts of savagery, who delight in causing pain, both mental and physical, to their fellow characters. But even as we feel revulsion, anger, or contempt, we cannot look away. The pages keep turning well into the night, satisfying a primal urge to confront the darkness inside us all.
Recently someone commented on the protagonist in my new novel, My Beautiful Mistake. They said she was unlikeable and they had a hard time relating to her. Of course you do! Kittie is filled with insecurities and self-doubt. She makes bad choices and even though I’ve spent years inside her head, I admit she is very hard to like. But that, is part of the whole point of the book. I’m not interested in people without flaws or who never engage in bad behaviour. Difficult people exist in the real world, why not in books too?
Check out my novel (available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle) and let me know your thoughts. Your support means the world to me!
Stay safe my friends. In the meantime, happy reading,
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