ISN’T IT SAD when a great book ends? The dwindling amount of pages towards the close of a perfect novel is always kind of heartbreaking, like leaving a world you have come to love, and friends you cherished. The characters we are drawn to in books always fascinate me. It says a lot about our personalities – do you root for the good guys, or the bad guys? As expected, I always go for the bad boys. Often, these characters- the disillusioned, disaffected night-dwellers conjured up from the darkest recesses of the author’s mind- are the most multi faceted and believable. The ones who move you, or make you fearful – they are the keepers.
(The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger)
Perceived as a pivotal book on teenage angst, protagonist Holden Caulfield’s inner landscape is a desolate place of mistrust, fear and passive aggression, making him the eternal poster boy for disenchanted youth since the book’s release in 1951. Salinger’s seminal novel recounts a breathless three days in New York City seen through the eyes of narrator Caulfield in an eccentric stream of consciousness. Equal parts cantankerous and supremely melancholic, his internal monologue is a dark place. Hateful of the “phonies” that surround him at university, disillusioned with the lack of innocence and purity in his contemporaries, and apparently completely apathetic toward his future, he rebels against society as whole, revelling in his alienation and increasingly loose grip on reality. In turns both hostile, mournful and desperately seeking love and identity. Caulfield is an intriguingly multi-dimensional character you end up wishing you knew.
(Women by Charles Bukowski)
Henry Chinaski, more author Charles Bukowski’s alter ego than he is a fictional character, is a fifty something poet cum rampant lothario who loves women, or specifically, loves sleeping with as many women as possible, if this wonderful book is any indication. Chinaski is finally starting to experience some professional success, and he’s making it for all its worth by over-indulging wildly in alcohol, dog racing and sex. Chinaski is crudely beautiful and monumentally profane – a deadbeat with a poet’s soul, under no illusion that he is little more than a drunk made good with a well concealed heart of gold. The touching part is that Chinaski really loves these women, in his own bizarre way, and they stay with him-haunting him with their sharp-tongued, lip-sticked presence. Bukowski wrote a number of books with Chinaski as the protagonist, but this in my opinion is his most real work, not much a book about sex, but painful self-evisceration. He tears himself open and laughs about it, proudly showing off his darkest, and also most poignant, meanderings on relationships.
(Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis)
The final thrones of the ‘80s were never rendered more perfectly, and as disturbingly, as in Easton Ellis’ first, and arguably best novel- an apathetic, heartbreaking trail through the hedonistic excess of Los Angeles youth. The green-tinged neon glow of Beverly Hills swimming pools, cocaine-fuelled despair, oversexed, underwhelmed teenagers desolate and dying in the desert dust, the book shocked a nation with its candid portrayal of what the youth of the time really got up to when the sun went down. The decade’s dark core is captured and reflected not in the novel’s titular character Clay, but his best friend turned bisexual junkie gigolo, the beautiful and doomed Julian. Inaccessible yet aching to be rescued, Julian spends his time zombie-eyed around LA, stalked by wild-eyed panic and broken dreams. Will Clay ever be able to reach his friend or is Julian doomed to a life of cheap thrills and sun-bleached nightmares? Highly recommended for those who love a traumatised sociopath heartthrob as much as I do.
(Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe)
One of the most beloved and cherished African novels of all time, this book defined a generation and gave a voice to the African literature movement. “Things Fall Apart” charts the life of Okonkwo, a self-made, well-respected member of the Umuofia clan. Though outwardly stern and powerful, much of his life is dictated by internal fear. An incredibly flawed hero who’s greatest, overwhelming worry is that he will become like his father – lazy, unable to support his family, and cowardly. As the novel progresses, we realise Okonkwo is also his own shackles, yet as his failings begin to show, I loved him all-the-more.