07 October 2014

Top Ten Character Driven Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday or see the list of future topics click here.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: Not only is this a character-driven novel, it is a holy-shit-that's-a-lot-of-characters character-driven novel. Fully developed characters really make a book for me. I like realistic, flawed, complicated, contradictory, human characters in my reading, and this book is so damn chock full of them, it's a bit difficult to keep everyone (and their motivations) straight.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie BarrowsMy neighbor Evangeline Smythe is going to have twins in June.  She is none too happy about it, so I am going to ask her to give one of them to me.  This is one of many little quirky comments Juliet. Enough said.

will grayson, will grayson by John Green and David LevithanI was really impressed while reading with the depth and complexity of the characters. Even while reading about Person 1 at Event A, I knew that Persons 2-5 were busy elsewhere, living even when I couldn't "see" what they were doing. Hmmm...I hope that made sense. It's not often that I feel the "realness" of characters quite so much.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon: Definitely ranks up there on a list of character-driven novels as the story is narrated from the point of view of an autistic 15 year old boy. I fell in love with the main character, Christopher; his not-quite-perfectly logical nature, obsession with math, desire to be a detective, and bravery combine to create a personality that is simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: How can it not be character-driven when our unreliable narrator, Humbert Humbert, is narrating his romantic (?) relationship with a 12 year old girl? The way Humbert speaks (aka the way Nabokov writes) is ingenious. He artfully plays with words, the structure of sentences, the use of allusion, the creation of new words. Humbert's voice is everything in this novel. First of all because he is the one telling the story. Second because it is so appealing. Seriously appealing.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness: In a world where all of the men hear each other's thoughts in a continuous, unavoidable stream of Noise, character is quite at the forefront. Knowing a person becomes so important in the book, and the knowing between Todd, with all his noise, and Viola, who has none, illustrates an important part of what it means to be human and unique. Add in the fact that these are unique, interesting, and growing characters and you have a book that is remarkably character-driven...and awesome.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Just a taste of the characters in this one: Aziraphale and Crowley, an angel and a demon who quite like it on Earth and despite orders are trying to prevent its occurrence. Anathema Device, descendant of Agnes Nutter a prophetic witch who actually got it right. Newton Pulsifer, a member of the Witchfinder Army who has only two nipples. Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order of Nuns. I could keep going.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Narrated by the intersex granchild of Greek immigrants, this story  is the immigrant experience, the transition from female to male, and the saga of family. The characters, their struggles, their experiences, their transitions, are everything. Even plot shifts and subplots revolve around the specific actions of people, how a person is, in part, the result of individual choices made by others.

Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello: The characters in this play each have competing views of the reality of their drama, just as people in real life have differing views of the same event. "But only in order to know if you, as you really are now, see yourself as you once were with all the illusions that were yours then, with all the things both inside and outside of you as they seemed to you - as they were then indeed for you. Well, sir, if you think of all those illusions that mean nothing to you now, of all those things which don't even seem to you to exist any more, while once they were for you, don't you feel that the very earth under your feet is sinking away from you when you reflect that in the same way this you as you feel it today - all this present reality of yours - is fated to seem a mere illusion to you tomorrow?"

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins:  A whodunit of grand proportions, The Moonstone includes an intelligent, eccentric detective, a gem stolen after a party in a country manor, and of course opium. But it isn't the original plot that captivated me; it is the characters. The Moonstone contains some of the most intriguing characters I have ever read. From the humble servant Gabriel Betteredge to the prissy and self-righteous Drusilla Clack to the opium-addicted Ezra Jennings, these are people you want to know about, and they speak directly to you as The Moonstone is an epistolary novel with multiple characters recounting firsthand events in their unique tone of voice.

So what other character-driven novels are out there that I should read? 


  1. Lolita made my list, too, and Good Omens just *barely* didn't. I had to leave a lot out!

  2. I think I read Six Characters in college because it sounds so familiar to me. I definitely need to read it (again). It sounds right up my alley.

  3. I'm horrible at making lists like this so of course nothing comes to mind, but I like yours. I loved The Moonstone and The Knife of Never Letting Go (oh Manchee...). I'm terrified to start Game of Thrones. I'm afraid it will screw up my watching experience, and there's like a million pages to each book...

  4. Lolita! A million times Lolita! I didn't make a list for today but The History of Love would have been on my list. And maybe Atonement.

  5. Such a great list! Good Omens, Lolita, love it.

  6. Great list. I'd add all books by John Irving! Maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany if I had to pick one. :)

  7. I absolutely LOVE Good Omens. It's pretty much my favourite book of all time. And I think I put Will Grayson on my list - I thought that book was so well executed. The two-author, two-perspective thing really worked. The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society has been on my shelf for ages and keeps getting overlooked, but it sounds like something I'd love!


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