8 of the best books with the absolute worst characters.

In recent months, I've become obsessed with bad people in books

I don't mean villains or evil psychopaths — I'm talking about selfish narrators. Moody main characters who can be cruel, thoughtless, complicated. I want deeply flawed, essentially unlikeable protagonists who have a chip on their shoulder.

It's just so much more interesting, don't you think? When you can feel as much disgust for a character as you feel sympathy, and even love, right? 


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Either way, I've been devouring any book I can get my hands on that has genuinely bad people leading them — from disturbing fabulism to classic romance and nail-biting thrillers.

So, here are the best eight books I've read so far, led by wholly unlikeable characters.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

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If you want to feel a little disturbed but mostly moved, you should absolutely read Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. It's a series of short stories that cover all sorts of genres, from science fiction to comedy, horror (!!!!), fantasy and fabulism.

The book also mixes urban legends and old wives' tales, including my personal favourite chapter, entitled 'The Husband Stitch', which is about the implications of a husband who attempts to control his wife's life.

None of the characters are particularly 'good'. They're all complicated, rather unlikeable and obviously damaged. However, Machado is very talented at making her stories so relatable, or sometimes so fantastical, that you genuinely forget all of her characters... kinda suck.

Homesick For Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh.

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This was the first book I read from Ottessa Moshfegh and I went in blithely unaware of how... gross I would feel afterwards. Homesick For Another World is another collection of short stories (sorry!) and the themes are... well, horrifying. 

Each story is narrated by society's underdogs — the kind of people you might avoid on the street. Despite their unsavoury discussions and grim outlook on life, though, Moshfegh's writing is both brilliant and humorous. It's a strange mix of revulsion and amusement that makes this book an unforgettable read. 

Bunny by Mona Awad.

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Samatha Heather Mackey is a lonely, strange girl and she couldn't be more of an outsider in her MFA program at Warren University. She's estranged from her wealthy and cliquey classmates — in particular, a group of girls who dub themselves the 'Bunnies'. Despite her dislike of them, though, Samantha is drawn into the Bunnies' inner circle and becomes absolutely captivated, even though she knows there is something deeply wrong with all of them.

This book is scary, compelling, disturbing and, honestly, really touching.

While you may sympathise with Samantha, her constant complaining can also be grating. Nevertheless, Bunny is a fantastic read that keeps you hooked until the very end.


None Of This Is True by Lisa Jewell.

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In None Of This Is True, Lisa Jewell brings together two women who share the same birthday and were born in the same hospital but come from vastly different backgrounds. Alix Summer seems to have it all — a perfect family, a successful podcast, and a beautiful home. On the other hand, there's Josie, who grew up in a council estate, with a past scarred by abuse and grooming.


Their lives become intertwined when Josie offers up her complicated and frankly dreary story to Alix to tell on her podcast. From there, disturbing truths begin to unravel.

Both characters are pretty complicated and at times incredibly irritating, because they make a lot of bad decisions that hurt a lot of people. Overall though, None Of This Is True is one of those books you devour in an evening. If the suspense doesn't kill you, the characters' audacity surely will.

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili.

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The Eighth Life is a (fictional) historical record of a family saga that starts with the four daughters of a Georgian chocolatier. Through wars and revolutions, and spanning generations, it's a melodramatic love letter written by the narrator Niza to her teenage niece Brilka, who has run away from home. 

It's devastating, funny, joyful and full of hope. Unlike the other novels on this list, The Eighth Life has bad characters who are genuinely so human that you understand them. You mourn with them. You are angry on their behalf. You judge them, but you also have sympathy.

Although most of the main characters are kind of bad people, The Eighth Life shows us plainly that none of us start that way.

Disclaimer: This book is 944 pages long. I'm sorry, but you won't regret it!

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.

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Another one by Moshfegh is her debut novel Eileen, a story set in the 1960s about a girl who wants to escape from her boring life in a small New England town. This story is told by Eileen when she is 50 years older and looking back on her life.

This would be a perfectly fine, perfectly acceptable story — if Eileen was not such a despicable, lonely, pitiful person. Yep, not kidding. She's self-absorbed, insecure and suffering from a life that has been repressive and dreary.

It's disgusting to be in Eileen's head, but it sure does make for a good read.

Evening Is The Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan.

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I picked this up at a library when I was 17 years old and inhaled it. Some of it went right over my head, if I'm being honest, but I re-read it again last year and was absorbed all over again.

Evening Is The Whole Day is set in Ipoh, Malaysia and it follows the family of hot-shot lawyer Rajasekharan, his wife Vasanthi, his mother, his children Uma, Suresh and Asha, and a maid named Chellam, who is the same age as Uma. None of these characters are particularly good — not even Suresh and Asha, who are kids.

This book has pretty much everything: mystery, political strife, domestic intrigue, hilarity and a thrilling plot that doesn't ever feel slow.

The Fury by Alex Michaelides.

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Many are probably familiar with Alex Michaelides, who wrote the incredible thriller novel The Silent Patient. This book is just as good and is told through the eyes of Elliot Chase, who is holidaying on a Greek island belonging to his best friend and former movie star Lana Farrar, along with her husband, son, assistant, best friend and caretaker of the island.

What is meant to be a relaxing weekend away turns into something sinister when gun shots ring out into the night and a body is found.

Elliot is about as unlikeable as one can imagine and that is clear from the beginning. It seems like everyone is kind of just... resigned to the fact he is there, except for Lana, who absolutely adores him.

The Fury is suspenseful and interesting, strange and fast-paced, despite being almost 400 pages. If you're looking for something to keep you entertained all weekend long, look no further.


What books do you love that have unlikeable characters? Let us know in the comments below!


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