Ten Books With Troubled Narrators
1.The Wasp Factory: Iain Banks
Told from the perspective of 16-year-old Frank Cauldhame, this chilling and thought-provoking novel deals with the everyday life of a tiny community on a remote Scottish island, and the secret life of a very troubled teenager, his rituals, obsessions, and search for identity. Brutal, stark, and visceral, with moments of existentialist humor, it continues to divide readers and critics as violently as any novel since Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.
2.We Have Always Lived in the Castle: Shirley Jackson
A dark yet quiet thriller set in a small community in Vermont. Two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine (Merricat), live with their ailing uncle, shunned by the community since the death of their family by poison. Merricat, the young and troubled narrator, is both disturbing and delightfully weird: she remains one of the most endearing psychopaths in literature.
- Edith’s Diary: Patricia Highsmith
Highsmith’s most underrated work, this is a dark glimpse into the underbelly of small-town America. Edith Howland, a middle-aged woman, discarded by her husband and frustrated with her life, recreates her ideal existence through a series of diary entries that diverge increasingly from reality. Through her eyes, we can only glimpse the truth as it emerges, heading toward a conclusion as poignant as it is chilling.
- Endless Night: Agatha Christie
The best of Christie’s mysteries and unusual in its first-person narrative, Endless Night is a surprisingly noir combination of familiar elements: a rich heiress, a louche playboy, a gypsy’s curse, a femme fatale, and a denouement that still packs an emotional punch in spite of the rather theatrical style.
- The Debt to Pleasure: John Lanchester
A sinister, clever comedy featuring the sentim
ental journey of middle-aged gourmand Tarquin Winot, traveling from Portsmouth to Provence, while at the same time revealing his past life in a series of gastronomic vignettes. Tarquin is a marvelous creation: articulate, superbly delusional, and as devoted to French cuisine as he is to murder.
- The Collector Collector: Tibor Fischer
Witty and wholly original, the narrator of the tale (and the collector of its collectors) is an ancient Sumerian bowl, sitting in the London flat of a girl called Rosa. The bowl not only acts as a vessel containin
g 5000 years of human history but is also able to communicate with those who handle it, reading memories and commenting on the inadequacies of their lives.
- The Little Friend: Donna Tartt
Beginning with the unexplained and violent death of a nine-year-old boy in a small American town, this is both a slow-burning novel of suspense and an exploration of grief, of a child’s attempt to understand her world. With echoes of To Kill a M
ockingbird, twelve-year-old Harriet and her friend Hely set off to avenge the murder of Harriet’s brother ten years ago.
8. The End of Alice: A.M. Homes
This uncompromising tale, narrated both by a pedophile and by a 19-year old girl, is hardly an easy read, but it certainly pushes the boundaries. A troubling novel that questions and explores the nature of desire and the meaning—even the existence—of innocence.
- We Need To Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver
What makes a mother hate her child? Can a child be evil from birth, or does evil come from somewhere else? Narrated by the mother of a high-school shooter, this unnerving tale manages to spin the coarse straw of tabloid shock-horror into literary gold.
- Lolita: Vladimir Nabokov
Perennially notorious, this twisted, tortured tale of rapture is narrated by a monster of most exquisite sensitivity. Love it or loathe it, it remains one of the most peerless pieces of prose in the English language.
Joanne Harris is the New York Times bestselling author of Chocolat (made into an Oscar-nominated film with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp), the thriller Gentlemen and Players, which was shortlisted for the Edgar Award (Best Novel), and most recently, the psychological suspense Different Class. She has since written acclaimed novels in diverse genres including historical fiction and fantasy. She is an honorary Fellow of St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and was awarded an MBE by the Queen. Harris taught in a boys’ grammar school for fifteen years before becoming a full-time writer. She lives with her family in Yorkshire.