by Taylor Coil
I've noticed something about myself recently, and it's quite troubling: I love reading books wherein the characters are horrible people.
Truly terrible human beings. Umbridge level horrible. Okay, maybe not Umbridge level horrible, but you get the idea.
If a character is a terrible human, there's probably a reason for it. Their backstory is likely filled with tragedy, or abuse, or something that makes you say 'oh yeah, I get it.' Let's get that disclaimer out of the way.
I think there are a few core reasons for this fascination with characters I don't respect. Part of it ignites a sense of self-righteousness, which I hardly ever indulge. Judging a fictional character is better than judging a real human, right? I think so.
The bigger portion, however, is that it's a form of escapism. I don't have to like a character to be fascinated with that person. I'm interested in their motivations, their goals, their justifications for their actions. It's instructive for me, in a way. And it keeps me turning the page.
Here are my recent favorite stories featuring some uh... 'flawed' humans (in no particular order):
5. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling [book]
I get why this has such mixed reviews on Amazon: it doesn't read like Harry Potter (obviously), and I don't like any of the characters. Clearly, the latter doesn't bother me. There's real cruelty in this novel. And tons of negativity.
But the characters are REAL. You get to know them. You can really envision them. You understand their cruelty, as much as one can understand such a thing.
I'm disgusted by Simon. My heart aches for Krystal, but then she does something that annoys me, which makes me re-think the heartache. I'll leave it there, because I don't want to write a long-winded review of the book. Basically: everyone is flawed and it's beautiful.
I'm reading this now. I haven't finished it yet, so don't tell me what happens.
4. True Detective [tv show]
True Detective is an HBO Show - and we all know what that means. If you aren't OK with things like swearing and nudity, this is not the show for you.
True Detective is chock full of horrible deeds: you've got your unforgivables like murder and torture, and then the still-awful-but-not-nauseating adultery and general meanness. The protagonists aren't terrible people, but they are NOT saints. They're flawed. I wouldn't seek out their company. And yet I did - by binge-watching the show with my husband for nights on end.
When True Detective explores the concept of evil, it does so perfectly. I, for one, felt the story in my very bones as I was watching the most horrifying scenes. It's visceral and powerful. It's not a pleasure to watch something that evil, but it's something.
3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn [book]
Gone Girl is the reason I thought to write this post in the first place, since the trailer just came out. I love this novel, but it took me a while to pinpoint why it had a special place on my shelf (when my other thrillers are shoved in an armoire out of sight).
It's the characters. Nick and Amy Dunne are so cruel to one another. My own marriage is nothing like that, so I found myself reading in fascination on how two people can love with so much hate. How Amy can spend years planning an elaborately cruel trick on her husband, all the while keeping up a chipper facade.
Okay, so maybe it's not love, but it's certainly respect.
I'm going to be in the minority here and say that I really liked the ending. I found it satisfying and apropos for the character arcs. Nick and Amy deserve each other.
2. Prisoners [movie]
I watched this movie at night against by better judgement. Crime dramas about people kidnapping children or serial killers or rapists etc etc always give me nightmares.
Yep, this one definitely gave me nightmares.
Prisoners made the cut because of Hugh Jackman's character, Keller. He tortures a man - someone the viewer knows doesn't deserve it. I felt no sense of justice, but somehow I understood. And I walked away from the film sympathizing with Keller.
If you like crime thrillers with imperfect characters (to put it lightly), you'll like this one. To me it had the same feel as Silence of the Lambs (which also gave me nightmares, and is free to watch for Amazon Prime members).
1. Game of Thrones [books and tv show]
Of course I was going to include Game of Thrones in this. Game of Thrones has possibly the best example of an imperfect protagonist, a few times over. I hated Tyrion and Jamie at the start of the series, but I find myself rooting for them both as the story progresses. Stanis drives me nuts, but there's something heart-wrenching about his desperation.
Actually, the only character who bores me a bit is Jon Snow (my husband's favorite character). He's a good guy - but he's a brooding good guy. Evil mastermind is far more interesting than brooding hero. I'd much rather watch Cersei's evil schemes or Arya's drive any day.
I haven't read the books, and my husband has. Perhaps Jon Snow is more interesting in the books. Tell me in the comments if that's the case!
I'm now re-thinking my (admittedly hyperbole-ridden) title. Yes, some of the characters are horrible human beings, but 'inherently flawed' is more correct. I don't think Nick Dunne or Jamie Lannister are horrible people. They do cruel things, yes, but does that mean they're cruel people?
At what point do cruel deeds result in a cruel person? What do you think?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Taylor is our Marketing Manager. She loves reading SciFi, mysteries & thrillers and anything by Sophie Kinsella. You probably can't beat her in Harry Potter trivia, but you can try if you enjoy failure.