Top 5 novel protagonists & top 3 novel antagonists?
God dammit! I’ve been thinking about this all day and, frankly, there are just too many characters who I like or like to hate. :D
But, as requested, I have tried to whittle it down to just five and just three.
1. Lisbeth Salander - Millennium Trilogy
Though these books could do with a serious edit, I pulled myself through the whole trilogy because Lisbeth Salander was so incredibly compelling and unlike any character I’d read before. Aspie, queer, kinky (but without it being tokenised - woot!) and possessed of actually useful skills that propelled the plot forward, she is still one of the coolest, most complex character in literature. She’s a sexual aggressor, a rape survivor; where others would have been broken, she is resilient. It’s wonderful to read about a character who is all of these things but also profoundly wounded, untrusting and fragile at the same time. She’s the best-written thing in that whole series and it wouldn’t have been half as good without her. Though she probably wouldn’t give a shit about that.
2. Jack Reacher - Please, for the love of God, ignore the films. Book reacher is infinitely less of a dickbag than film Reacher is. In fact, he’s my favourite ex-military, sharp shooting, slow running, feminist action hero in literature. The earlier books are better and I think that Lee Child has done a less great job with the past couple of books than the earlier volumes. I think he’s too obviously following a formula right now and it’s a real shame because the early stuff is some of the finest, sharpest, plain talking crime fiction out there. Reacher, rather like Salander, exists outside of society but unlike her, he is compelled to do good. He’s an old-fashioned hero right out of the Captain America mould by way of Dirty Harry.
3. Alma Whittaker - The heroine of Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel The Signature of All Things is a fascinating character study of a woman fighting against the time in which she lives. Again, she is arguably an outsider; plain, academic and introverted at a time when women were expected to be beautiful and opinion less. She is at first a boisterous child before becoming bookish and opinionated, obsessed with her scientific work on mosses in her youth and then, later, an explorer, a fighter for the will of women, for their sexuality, their opinions and her own theories on evolution. She is, *spoiler alert* pipped unceremoniously to the post by Charles Darwin and her life’s work, though good, highly accurate and worthy is deemed irrelevant in the face of such a giant of Victorian naturalism. I love this book and Alma for showing the importance of following one’s passion no matter how hard, how long it may take because to do so is to always do good even if one fails in the more traditional ways. The Signature of All Things is a beautiful and fascinating book and Alma is at its centre. It’s such a great book because it has a heroine whose sole purpose isn’t to look cute but to really do things, to have opinions, to rail and fight in her own, quiet way.
4. Sebastian Flyte & Charles Ryder - Yes, I know it’s two characters but you can’t have one without the other, you just can’t! The Cambridge -era protagonists of Brideshead Revisited were what 14 year old me hoped all boys would be like once I got out of the village and into real life. Of course, they weren’t (thankfully!) and so, I have to put them down. Secondly, they’re here because as I’ve continued to read this book over the past decade or so it’s absolutely striking how complex and dark these characters truly are. They’re incredibly well-wrought. Waugh, famously, was a Cambridge undergrad himself but not a part of the Aristocracy so his work retains a sense of the outsider (there it is again, that motif I love so much!) and we see this with Charles Ryder - the practical realist to Sebastian’s pouting, effete affectation. They’re night and day, the OTP before OTPs were even a thing and to watch their lives move from guilded and golden, Gatsby-esque youths to troubled and dark Gatsby-esque betrayal and panic and the inevitable coming of war is, every time, gripping and sad and inevitable and heart-breaking.
5. Angel Dare - Angel Dare is the protagonist of the pulp crime novels Money Shot and Choke Hold by Christa Faust. What with Faust being one of the best pulp authors around it doesn’t seem right that I ignore the ex-porn actress whom she wrought with such sharp prose. Angel has been thought everything; high success and complete failure, multiple attempts on her life, drug addict partners it’s all there but, she keeps coming back each and every time in a way that the reader can’t help but love. She’s sharp and ballsy and on the wrong side of forty. She ends up juuuuuust escaping the sticky end of the stick in true noir form. So far, it’s been *spoiler alert* twice over and I hear that Faust has plans for a third Angel Dare book which is great because they’re well written and fun. I just wish I could write that well.
1. Dorian Grey - The Picture Of Dorian Grey reveals something new to me each and every time I read it. I think that was what Wilde wanted; to make the reader question the novel on reading. Even 123 years after it was first published, Dorian Grey still sits there between pretty, Sebastian Flyte style tragedy and selfish, greedy, evil. It’s why I’ve put him at the top of this list, hanging out right between good and bad. He’s neither and both; he achieves the ultimate in decadent living and in doing so descends to the very worst kind of squalor. He’s everything you want in a bad guy: complex, tragic, flawed, beautiful and dangerously, exquisitely captivating. Dorian Grey is seduction personified; It’s the most terrifying thing about him.
2. Shiba - The terrible, abusive boyfriend of Lui in Hitomi Kanehara’s novella Snakes and Earrings is awful in the truest, most unsettling ways. He’s the guy you think of when someone says abusive boyfriend but less of a caricature and more of a subtly brilliant examination of one half of a co-dependent, abusive relationship. He’s a really great character study; well-written, compelling and panic inducing. He’s everyone your 21 year old self was terrified of and worse.
3. Dr. Curlew - The Crimson Petal and The White. While this character only has a supporting role in this neo-victorian novel, his kind of evil is so striking because he believes he is doing good and is supported by the establishment. He’s cold, overly clinical and humiliates protagonist William Rackham’s hysteric wife Agnes with invasive and “medically necessary” gynaecological examinations. In the novel, he acts as a symbol of and for the establishment at that time (and, arguably, our time); dismissing sex as something animalistic and filthy but clearly trying to get what small sliver of enjoyment he can, how he can. Quiet, business like and sterile, his character has creepy at its very centre.