Iconic literary families that we can’t get enough of

Meet the fictional families that readers just can't get enough of.

18/04/2022
2 minutes to read
Three books stand in front of a background of many illustrated faces.

‘I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!’ declares Jo in Louise May Alcott’s Little Women. Whether or not that’s true, it’s certainly the case that we like to read about them. We can’t help falling in love with families that are almost sickeningly perfect, and we certainly can’t resist reading about the families that are pushing one another to breaking point. There is something uniquely fascinating about peeking behind the curtain to see how another family functions, even if they are fictional . . . 

Here, we share ten iconic families from literature that we can’t get enough of, from the endearingly stalwart March family to the tortuously dysfunctional Melroses. 

The March family in Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Book cover for The March family in Little Women

Thousands of readers around the world have fallen in love with kind and thoughtful Marmee and her four courageous and ingenious daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. As they navigate their way from childhood to adulthood, the sisters come up against a number of heartbreaking adversities, which they must overcome together. The March women capture our hearts because they act like a real family – despite their fights and disagreements,  their love for one another will always be more important.

The Brandt family in The Miniaturist and The House of Fortune

by Jessie Burton

Book cover for The Brandt family in The Miniaturist and The House of Fortune

We were first captivated by Jessie Burton's Brandt family in her 2015 novel The Miniaturist, when Nella Oortman joined the illustrious but secretive Brandt family. Now they're back, twenty years on, in The House of Fortune. An unorthodox family to be sure, but try not to be won over by the strong and determined young women at its very heart.

The Hanrahan family in The Exhibitionist

by Charlotte Mendelson

Book cover for The Hanrahan family in The Exhibitionist

Longlisted this year for the Women's Prize for Fiction, The Exhibitionist tells the story of the eclectic Hanrahan family who are guaranteed to go down in the history books of iconic literary families. This is one family you probably won't want to be a part of, because the Hanrahans are chaotic and dysfunctional in every way. Exploring the toxic relationships and peeling back the secrets hidden within this family makes for addictive reading.

The Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Book cover for The Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice

Just as important to the plot of Pride and Prejudice as the brooding romantic hero Mr Darcy, are the members of the Bennet family. The Bennets all have their own distinct personalities and you’re bound to have a soft spot for one of them, whether it’s Mrs Bennet, a conniving matchmaker prone to fits of hysteria, or saucy Lydia, who loves nothing more than flirting with the local soldiers.

The Cazalet family in The Cazalet Chronicles

by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Book cover for The Cazalet family in The Cazalet Chronicles

The story of the charming and troubled Cazalet family is told over the course of several generations in Elizabeth Jane Howard's much-adored Cazalet Chronicles, starting with The Light Years. The Cazalets are a fairly wealthy Sussex family whose way of life, dependent on servants and traditions, is gradually changing. With each book, the family witnesses births, deaths and children coming of age and our relationship with each character evolves along with them.

Jude and his chosen family in A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for Jude and his chosen family in A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara's powerful and heartbreaking novel A Little Life is centred around the brilliant but withdrawn Jude who has suffered deep trauma in his life. But, he is able to find acceptance with his chosen family – his close friends Willem, JB and Malcolm, and an older couple who become like parents to him, Harold and Julia. This book acknowledges and shines a light on the incredible bonds created between people who intentionally choose to love and support each other, creating their own version of a family. 

The Melrose family in The Patrick Melrose novels

by Edward St Aubyn

Book cover for The Melrose family in The Patrick Melrose novels

We couldn't not include the deeply flawed Melrose family in this list. The semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels tell the story of the eponymous Patrick who we follow throughout his life. From a dark and disturbing childhood, to years of drug and alcohol addiction, and finally to life as a husband and father. Although these novels make for tough reading at times, it is the quality of the writing – at times searingly funny but always deeply humane – that has us returning to this broken family again and again.

The Pickles and The Lambs in Cloudstreet

by Tim Winton

Book cover for The Pickles and The Lambs in Cloudstreet

This story has not just one, but two families for you to become obsessed with. The Pickles and the Lambs could not be more different, so when they're thrown together to live under one roof, tensions run high. But over time, they learn to live together and their home becomes one of life and love. This heartfelt novel is truly a celebration of the human spirit and the extraordinary love that can be found within a family. 

Pachinko

by Min Jin Lee

Book cover for Pachinko

Prepare to be impressed by the strength and endurance of the Baek family in the sweeping epic Pachinko. Following the family through eight decades and four generations, with matriarch Sunja as the main protagonist, this is an incredible story of identity, love and survival. 

Maame’s family in Homegoing

by Yaa Gyasi

Book cover for Maame’s family in Homegoing

Through several generations, we closely follow Maame’s descendants and intimately witness how the slave trade tore families apart and made an impact that is still felt in the present day. Each of the characters are vividly depicted and it seems like a spin-off novel could be written about any one of them.

Discover more iconic literary families that are guaranteed to have you hooked in this episode of BookBreak.

Best Families in Literature