What are some novels with evil first-person narrators?
September 13, 2008 4:56 PM   Subscribe

What are some reasonably well-known, preferably famous, examples of novels with evil first-person narrators? All that's coming to mind is Humbert Humbert, but he's too aware of his own nastiness for my purposes. I need novels where the undiluted dastardliness of the first-person narrator affects the entire moral framework of the story, so that you might be forgiven for suspecting that the author actually sides with this monster. Cheers!
posted by Beardman to Media & Arts (61 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
"A Clockwork Orange"

"Richard III" (play, not a novel)
posted by grumblebee at 5:02 PM on September 13, 2008


"Barry Lyndon"
posted by grumblebee at 5:03 PM on September 13, 2008


Games of the Blind, by Evelin Sullivan. Fantastic book. Read the customer reviews on Amazon; they do a pretty good job of describing it.
posted by jayder at 5:04 PM on September 13, 2008


austin grossman's debut novel soon i will be invincible was my favorite book of last year; it's written in first person with two narrators, one of them the supervillain dr impossible. it's not quite famous, at least not outside certain circles, but goddammit IT SHOULD BE.
posted by lia at 5:06 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Grendel by John Gardner. Though, as you might expect, you kind of end up sympathizing with the monster.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:10 PM on September 13, 2008


American Psycho, though I haven't read it, seems like it'd fit the bill perfectly.

I wouldn't call her dastardly, but there's a good bit of cruelty to the narrator of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and yet she's one of the most sympathetic characters in fiction I've known. It's one of my favorite books.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:11 PM on September 13, 2008


Jason Compson from the The Sound and the Fury is pretty terrible.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2008


Um, American Psycho?
posted by peggynature at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2008


Paradise Lost (starring... Satan!)
Depending on your interpretation, The Plague
posted by prefpara at 5:24 PM on September 13, 2008


The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester certainly fills the bill.
posted by carrienation at 5:28 PM on September 13, 2008


The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson is really the classic. American Psycho pales by comparison.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:31 PM on September 13, 2008


Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd surely counts.

More recently, Sabina Murray's A Carnivore's Inquiry.

Patrick McGrath has cornered the recent market on evil (and frequently insane) unreliable narrators: in particular, see Asylum and Spider.

The narrator of James Lasdun's The Horned Man definitely has...issues, although nowhere near as many issues as the narrator of Patrick McCabe's Winterwood (not for the faint of heart).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:33 PM on September 13, 2008


The Mission Earth series by L. Ron Hubbard.

EVIL!
/Hecubus vox
posted by bonobo at 5:41 PM on September 13, 2008


The classic example would be James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
posted by Bromius at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2008


One classic example is Nelly in Wuthering Heights, whom some critics call an unrelaible (and malevolent) narrator.
posted by cowbellemoo at 5:50 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Depends how evil you want but The Great Train Robbery has a criminal protagonist.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 5:50 PM on September 13, 2008


Ratman's Notebooks, better known as the source material for Willard?
posted by Lucinda at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2008


My Idea of Fun by Will Self.

Possibly a little more fucked up rather than straight evil but an excellent read: The Wasp factory by Iain banks.
posted by shelleycat at 5:55 PM on September 13, 2008


L. Ron Hubbard's science-fiction novel (spanning ten volumes), "Mission Earth".
But I don't recommend actually reading it.

The main character is essentially telling his side of a story and trying to sway the reader to his (obviously good!) side, but in doing so reveals just how rotten he is, and doubly so for expecting the reader to sympathise with his actions, unaware how far from normal his compass has drifted. It's an interesting approach for a 500 page book, but gets a bit thin as you approach the 4000th page.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:00 PM on September 13, 2008


Not quite a novel, but surely The Screwtape Letters deserve a nod.
posted by Rinku at 6:01 PM on September 13, 2008


The Thomas Covenant series begins with the main character raping a girl. I don't know how popular the book is, though.
posted by aetg at 6:04 PM on September 13, 2008


The classic example would be James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Yes, but only about half of that is actually in the first person: the protagonist's account is bracketed by an "Editor's Narrative" that puts it in context.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:08 PM on September 13, 2008




Yeah, The Killer Inside of Me and American Psycho. I'm pretty sure Dexter is first person(but he's totally self aware). There's a lot of noir that could be classified as such, depending on your definition of "evil." Andrew Vachss's Shella is narrated by a professional killer, but he's not exactly evil.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:10 PM on September 13, 2008


Watch it, thomas j wise.

Hey, at least I didn't ask "Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?"
posted by thomas j wise at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2008


The Dexter series of books (now a tv show too.)
Wicked, technically is a sympathetic view of what turns a good person evil (The wicked witch of hte west.)
posted by filmgeek at 6:24 PM on September 13, 2008


First to my mind are several works by Martin Amis, such as The Information and House of Meetings. But I worry that his narrators may suffer from awareness of their shortcomings just as Humbert does.
posted by donpedro at 6:42 PM on September 13, 2008


Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite
posted by kimdog at 7:05 PM on September 13, 2008


"The Thomas Covenant series begins with the main character raping a girl. I don't know how popular the book is, though," aetg.

Popular enough series that they are still being written.

And I don't think that event occurs until much later in the books, and to the protagonsit's defense, he didn't believe the events were real at the time, and thought he'd lost his mind, if I recall correctly, but been some time since I read any of them.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:12 PM on September 13, 2008


Along with the previously mentioned Jim Thompson novel, there's also Pop. 1280, told from the point of view of a crooked sheriff. I haven't read much Thompson but what I have read I've really liked. There's probably even more Thompson novels like that out there. Seriously, if you're looking for evil narrators-- Jim Thompson is your guy.
posted by Kronoss at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2008


John Fowles' The Collector
posted by painquale at 7:29 PM on September 13, 2008


Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory
posted by painquale at 7:33 PM on September 13, 2008


Oh, and Russell Greenan's It Happened in Boston?

(That one is an especially good novel.)
posted by painquale at 7:36 PM on September 13, 2008


Sebastian Faulks' Engleby.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 7:52 PM on September 13, 2008


I might be remembering incorrectly, because it's been decades since I read it, but I think maybe Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire" was this way?
posted by Flunkie at 8:07 PM on September 13, 2008


The first novel of George McDonald Fraser's Flashman series, titled simply Flashman: a novel. While the central conceit of the series is that Flashman is a coward and bully who nonetheless ends up being acclaimed a hero, in the subsequent novels Harry Flashman's character is softened and made considerably more attractive. In the inaugural story, however, he's an unrepentant shit who tortures, rapes and leaves his friends to die on the battlefield.
posted by mojohand at 8:18 PM on September 13, 2008


Crime and Punishment, one could argue.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:22 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Didn't the narrator in A Separate Peace intentionally cause his buddy to fall?
posted by infinitewindow at 8:22 PM on September 13, 2008


James Dickey's To the White Sea.
posted by steef at 8:47 PM on September 13, 2008


The Stranger, Albert Camus
posted by metajc at 8:55 PM on September 13, 2008


You've got to be kidding me. Nobody has mentioned the all time prince Holden Caulfield. It's surely the consensus that Holden is an Unreliable Narrator. When you read the novel, you seriously can't take the words coming from Holden's troubled psyche at face value.

There are no monsters, per se (not counting abstract terms such as phoniness and adulthood) but I can definitely give you the first-person narrator affect[ing] the entire moral framework of the story
posted by saxamo at 8:56 PM on September 13, 2008


Yeah, but Holden isn't evil.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:34 PM on September 13, 2008


James Dickey's To the White Sea

Huh?
posted by Neiltupper at 9:55 PM on September 13, 2008


SPOILER. Skip my comment if you haven't read that Christie novel yet.

Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd surely counts.

Yeah, I was about to go in and suggest it, then realized that it ruins the whole book for people who haven't read it. Way to go, thomas j wise. :7

Aside from the now-revealed twist ending, this was actually a pretty crappy book in my opinion. So you're not really losing out.

So now that you know that the narrator is a bad guy, there's no point in reading Roger Ackroyd.


We need the spoiler tag. Seriously.

You can continue reading again.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:48 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


And I'm pretty sure that the Covenant rape thing happens in the first book, and maybe the creepiest thing about it is how both the woman raped and her daughter (who is thus also Covenant's daughter and if I remember correctly, does the nasty with Covenant too) react to the rape.

The real defense in this case is that Covenant, a leper, was completely without sensation (I guess this is a side effect of long-term leprosy?) until he went to this magic world and was healed. At that point, he suddenly "felt" all at once and, overwhelmed by these sensations, went for the rape thing. Me, I'd be all over snuggling with a cat but that's why I'd never be a successful fantasy author.

(Note to young kids: want to read porn without getting caught? Read adult [as in adult section of the library, not as in XXX] fantasy novels or "historical fiction". If a dude wrote the book, there will be a sex act at least once per chapter, and mountains, rivers, or seas will most certainly be compared favorably to women's body parts).
posted by Deathalicious at 11:55 PM on September 13, 2008


I come to echo praise of Soon I Will Be Invincible, which is a very enjoyable read.

Not only American Psycho, but most of Brett Easton Ellis' books have one or more narrators who are utter shitbags.

Steph Swainston's series that begins with The Year of Our War is narrated by a character who is, at best, seriously morally ambiguous and, at worst, a terrible person who does terrible things; a key part of the series is the tension between the character's various external and internal influences, especially the degree of wrong stuff he will do to keep in the good books of the person granting him immortality.
posted by rodgerd at 12:21 AM on September 14, 2008


The First Circle, has a chapter from the point of view of Josef Stalin.
posted by robotot at 2:46 AM on September 14, 2008


Agatha Christie's Endless Night
posted by goo at 4:45 AM on September 14, 2008


And I'm pretty sure that the Covenant rape thing happens in the first book

It definitely does. I remember it, and it's the only one of the series I've read.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:31 AM on September 14, 2008


The Talented Mr. Ripley, et al. by Patricia Highsmith.
posted by elle.jeezy at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2008


The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis.

Series of letters between senior demon, Screwtape, and his nephew, Wormwood.
posted by mistsandrain at 8:33 AM on September 14, 2008


The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist
The dwarf is the teller of the narrative, obviously obsessed by writing down his experiences in a form of diary. Everything in the novel is described from his particular viewpoint, mostly in retrospective ranging from a few hours or minutes to several weeks or months after the actual events.

The dwarf is a profound misanthrope and generally embodies all things evil. He hates almost every person at the court except for the prince (who is the ruler of the city-state, rather king than prince), or rather aspects of him. He loves war, brutality and fixed positions. While almost all other characters of the novel develop during the chain of events, the dwarf does not change. He is still exactly the same character from the first to the last page.
posted by jammy at 8:49 AM on September 14, 2008


I was going to add "Gone With the Wind" ... although Scarlett's not really evil, just sort of shallow and self-interested. Not malevolent, just selfish, and yet although you know she's just a spoiled southern beeeeetch, you empathize with her.
posted by KWittman at 4:23 PM on September 14, 2008


The History of Luminous Motion
posted by Gortuk at 9:49 AM on September 15, 2008


"Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog." Not a novel, but it struck me recently while listening to Whedon's lyrics that the pseudo-narrator, Billy (Dr. Horrible), is screwed up from the start, based on some of the lyrics. (Yes, I know it's not J.D. Salinger — but it's still well-written!)
posted by WCityMike at 6:18 PM on September 15, 2008


Left Behind by LaHaye and Jenkins. As the slacktivist blog deconstructs, the protagonists are not only Mary Sue stand-ins for the authors, but also horribly insensitive to the mass carnage all around them from the "rapture" - and praised for it.

Not exactly directly what you're asking for, though, since it's entirely unintentional and more evidence of bad writing and not thinking through their premises anti-intellectualism than purposefully creating anti-heroes. (Oh, I also just noticed that you requested first-person narrators - oops.)

Anyway, it's great writing over at slacktivist - check out Humbert Steele and Everybody Loves Rayford and Meet the GIRAT*.

Full index of the posts at a fan-site here.

*Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time
posted by puddleglum at 1:24 PM on September 17, 2008


And I'm pretty sure that the Covenant rape thing happens in the first book
It definitely does. I remember it, and it's the only one of the series I've read.


And it definitely occurs in the first chapter or two, as I put it down right there and didn't bother reading any further.

I'm not sure whether the narrator of The Book Of The New Sun qualifies as evil. I'm going to go with yes, as he's quite comfortable with his role of torturer and executioner.
posted by tkolar at 8:13 PM on September 17, 2008


Hey all. Spoilers can be hid with ʇxǝʇ uʍop-ǝpısdn puɐ spɹɐʍʞɔɐq, or in an HTML tag or two such as this. I'm sure there are other ways, too.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:48 AM on March 11, 2009


An awful lot of these suggestions aren't first-person.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:01 AM on March 11, 2009


Peace by Gene Wolfe
posted by sciurus at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2009


Hubert Selby Jr.'s The Demon.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:49 PM on March 12, 2009


« Older tricks   |   How do I get my LG Dare phone to stop talking? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.