The best books starring antiheroes you love to hate

The Books I Picked & Why


By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Book cover of Frankenstein

Why this book?

I was trapped in Mary Shelley’s unparalleled prose after the first sentence in her novel Frankenstein. There was no escaping this tragic account of one man’s hubris, and resulting offence against nature and the divine. It was pure inspiration and irresistible to me as a young fan of the horror genre in comics, books, and movies, and collector of Aurora monster model kits. Within moments of his introduction, we see the shadow of Dr. Frankenstein’s fall in the first vaulted descriptions of his scientific method and philosophy, mirrored later in his creature’s sad story. These characters define the antihero as they make prideful claims of superiority and capacity for greatness despite lacking the vital ingredient of compassion for those they claim to love.

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The Long Goodbye

By Raymond Chandler

Book cover of The Long Goodbye

Why this book?

I fell in love with Raymond Chandler’s writing in my teens after reading his novel The High Window. That started a search for his other books and the films he authored. His writing is peppered with punchy dialogue, two-fisted action, and imbued with a sense of humor as tangible as his rich descriptions and cynical asides. I treasure his books, with The Long Goodbye being the most complete presentation of his famous Philip Marlowe character. The hard-boiled detective genre that Chandler defined is ambiguous by nature, and so becomes the home turf for the antihero in literature. This novel thrills and dismays with a complicated antihero Terry Lennox who is so compelling that he almost drags Marlowe out of the gray area and into the black.

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The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever : Lord Foul's Bane', 'Illearth War' and 'Power That Preserves

By Stephen Donaldson

Book cover of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever : Lord Foul's Bane', 'Illearth War' and 'Power That Preserves

Why this book?

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is a fantastic tale of two worlds. There is the Land, a mystical place of good versus evil, with inhabitants who use supernatural means to summon help against the darkness, and our world where the writer Thomas Covenant lives as an outcast to keep his leprosy in remission and to avoid his hostile neighbors. When he is magically transported to the Land and its people beg him to fight the evil for them, he refuses, believing it is a suicidal delusion that will reactivate his disease and kill him. The troubled hero Covenant could not be more compelling, or his dilemma better written, especially as the true-blue inhabitants of the Land struggle to understand why he can’t do the right thing.

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Money: A Suicide Note

By Martin Amis, Bert Krak

Book cover of Money: A Suicide Note

Why this book?

One of my friends gave me a copy of this book back in the days when we were all young artists and entrepreneurial wannabes who celebrated a lot more than we accomplished. It was a cycle of parties, hijinks, day jobs, and the slow growth of personal art projects; so, the arrival of this book about John Self’s madcap foray into feature film was timely. The character festoons whatever creativity and talent he has as a director with a profligate lifestyle that lampoons the very movie industry he hopes to dominate. Mysterious motivations drive him to hilarious extremes that Amis’ masterful writing somehow makes loveable and repulsive in a wild tale of self-discovery that, among other things, warns against being the antihero in your own story.

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The Silence of the Lambs

By Thomas Harris

Book cover of The Silence of the Lambs

Why this book?

Dr. Hannibal Lecter first intrigued me in the book Silence of the Lambs, and later seduced a multitude when the movie version came out. He is the quintessential antihero because of his placement in the narrative as an indomitable force of evil and cunning that in this instance could accomplish something very good. He embodies the question about the ends justifying the means and has no problem benefiting from the FBI’s philosophical quandary that in itself should alert the heroes to the problem one faces when dealing with the Devil. The narrative is so entwined with Lecter that the book itself could be perceived as an antihero that uses him to seduce the reader into a similar contract of quid pro quo.

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