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Characters we love to hate

Discover the controversial characters we can't stop talking about.

Great characters don’t always have to be likeable. In fact, we love to bond over a shared hatred of the ones that make our blood boil. These aren’t just your stereotypical villains that you’re obliged to detest because the narrative instructs you to, they are unashamedly flawed individuals who revel in committing the most heinous of acts and we thoroughly enjoy despising them for it! But despite our unadulterated loathing, there’s something that keeps drawing us back to these characters over and over again. So here are twelve of literature’s most irksome characters that we are infuriatingly infatuated with.

American Psycho

by Bret Easton Ellis

Book cover for American Psycho

Patrick Bateman is the epitome of a character we love to hate. Hiding behind a good looking, charming and successful facade, Patrick Bateman is in fact a sadistic serial killer. We’re forced to see the world through Patrick’s eyes and as he drags us into a dark underworld where the American Dream quickly becomes a nightmare, you’ll be desperate to tear apart his superficial, ‘perfect’ life, and expose him for the villain he truly is. Even as you toss the book aside in revulsion at Patrick’s latest act, you’ll find yourself picking it up again in no time, because this book is just that good.

The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for The Mercies

Vardø is an island of women who have learnt to live with the absence of men. But it is 1617, and these are the days of male domination and female submission. Absalom Cornet is the commissioner tasked with bringing religious order to the female community. However, Absalom's main concern is in crushing the spirits of anyone who doesn't share his zealous beliefs. In 1617, there is one sure way to silence a woman for good - accuse her of being a witch . . . As we root for the strong and independent women of Vardø, our hatred for Absalom intensifies. Ultimately, any man who restricts the freedom of women easily earns his way onto this list.

The Exhibitionist

by Charlotte Mendelson

Book cover for The Exhibitionist

Meet the Hanrahan family, gathering for a momentous weekend as their patriarch Ray, famous artist and notorious egoist, prepares for a new exhibition of his work. We see him irritatingly exhibit not only his art, but his self-importance over his family - a classic case of total narcissism. On the other end of the spectrum, Lucia, his selfless wife, admirably puts her roles as wife and mother first. If toxic family politics and domestic rifts are not unfamiliar to you, you’ll find this story furiously funny. Although we can’t make excuses for Ray, his antics as the tyrannical father figure who none of us would want around the house certainly make for great reading.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde

Book cover for The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray is young and handsome, but he’s also arrogant and self-obsessed. Dorian’s desire to stay young and beautiful forever manifests itself in a painting that withers and decays in his place. We read with disgust as he indulges in a life of hedonism that escalates to murder, while his appearance remains unmarked by this evil. Enthralled by this downward spiral, we sit on our moral pedestals waiting for the satisfaction of seeing him finally and quite literally, face the consequences of his actions.

The Atlas Six

by Olivie Blake

Book cover for The Atlas Six

Olivie Blake's The Atlas Six is a TikTok phenomenon, but what is it that is drawing readers to this dark academia fantasy? For us, it's Callum Nova, an infuriating magician who we love to hate. We always hope that those who wield extraordinary power, such as a magical empath with the ability to manipulate the desires of others, will use their powers for good, but in Callum's case our hopes are in vain. Cold and unfeeling, unwilling to share his gifts in a positive way, we're infuriated by this thoughtless magician. And what makes it worse, is that every time we hope Callum is about to make a change, he lets us down yet again with one of his trademark scathing witticisms (that are frustratingly but undeniably cool).

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Book cover for Vanity Fair

It’s not just a list of men! We finally come to a female character, Becky Sharp, the anti-heroine of Vanity Fair, who is as equally infuriating as the other characters on this list. No one likes a user - and Becky exploits everyone around her to climb to society’s loftiest heights. Sacrificing her husband, child and friends for the sake of a selfish ambition to establish herself, Becky is the sociopathic striver we love to hate. And yet we can’t get enough of her scheming, amoral determination, as her story has been adapted for the big screen and even given a modern retelling. You won’t want to miss Sarah May’s Becky (Jan 2023) where her own Becky Sharp involves herself in some of the biggest news stories and scandals during the 90s tabloid era in London.

Oliver Twist

by Charles Dickens

Book cover for Oliver Twist

One of the ultimate easy-to-hate villains is Bill Sikes, surpassing the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge and Miss Havisham on our list of loathsome Dickens’ characters. Sikes is a despicable criminal who doesn’t care much for animal welfare nor does he have any respect for women. A vicious abuser of those who are weaker than him, Bill is a walking, talking red flag. But nevertheless you’ll be captivated by his wretched flaws and passionately root for his demise. 

The Burning Chambers

by Kate Mosse

Book cover for The Burning Chambers

When a villain is written with as much depth and nuance as a protagonist, you have a truly special book on your hands. The Burning Chambers, the first novel in a series of the same name, is one such book. Minou Joubert is the series' heroine and while her bravery and kindness certainly make her a charming character, arguably it's the morally corrupt and self-serving Vidal, the Joubert family's oldest enemy, who is most captivating. Watching the two face off across this series of novels makes for compelling reading and you'll be itching for each new instalment to discover what new depths Vidal will sink to. 

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Book cover for Little Women

Everyone adores Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women also known as the unimpeachable March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth . . . and then there’s Amy. Selfish, materialistic, vain, quite frankly Amy is often a spoilt brat. Who can ever forget (let alone forgive!) Amy burning Jo’s manuscript that she’d spent years working on, just because she didn’t get invited to the theatre?! It irks us even further when she marries Laurie, the man we all wanted Jo to end up with. While Florence Pugh did some great work in redeeming the character of Amy in the 2019 film adaptation, we still think of Amy as our least favourite March sibling who we enjoy rolling our eyes at.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

Book cover for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

An iconic literary villain, Nurse Ratched rules the ward in an Oregon psychiatric hospital. Unfortunately for her patients, she is everything a nurse shouldn’t be! A cruel, power-hungry sadist who uses her authority to control and manipulate the patients with her strict and unbending routine. Until a new inmate, R.P McMurphy, arrives to challenge her regime. You’d never want to be in the care of Nurse Ratched, but nevertheless we find her so frightfully disturbing that she inspired her own spin-off series on Netflix, Ratched, starring Sarah Paulson.

A Game of Thrones

by George R. R. Martin

Book cover for A Game of Thrones

This list wouldn't be complete without Joffrey Baratheon, otherwise known as the greatest villain in the entirety of George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. From his cruel mockery of his uncle Tyrion to the sadistic treatment of Sansa Stark, Joffrey has not one redeeming moment that makes him a likeable character. Anyone who has just watched the television series A Game of Thrones, is only scratching the surface on just how awful Joffrey truly is - we urge you to pick up the first book in the series immediately so you can join in with hating him as passionately as we do.