A character-driven reader is someone who reads in order to get into the head of an interesting character -- this is different from those who read for setting, storyline or prose. A book with character as its biggest appeal is a book in which readers feel so connected with the characters that when the book is over, they feel they lost someone dear to them. However, there is more than one type of character-driven reader and there is more than one type of character-driven book. Some readers don’t actually need that character connection; sometimes they just need to feel like they have walked around in another’s shoes – regardless of whether the character is likable or even a decent person. Personally, I enjoy reading about characters of all kinds and often find unlikeable (or, at least, complicated) characters offer a more realistic, immersive reading experience. All of the characters in the books featured below, interestingly enough, are in the midst of becoming psychologically unhinged. They will appeal to the character-driven reader no doubt, but perhaps not to one who needs to like characters in order to want to delve into their minds.
The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton has probably been my favourite psychological suspense novel so far this year. Pursuing flight-attendant training in her desperation to reclaim her pilot ex, Juliette resorts to incrementally unstable measures, from cleaning his apartment to shopping for his groceries, in her resolve to end his relationship with another woman. Juliette is a great example of an interesting, love-to-hate character. She’s complicated and delusional but also plucky and whip smart. This is definitely a character-driven read, but if you can’t tolerate flawed, unreliable characters then steer clear!
Adele by Leah Slimani, French author of The Perfect Nanny, follows one of the more complicated characters I have come across in a long time: a troubled woman entirely at the mercy of a sex addiction. Although her need for anonymous, generally unpleasant encounters is ruining her psychologically, she manages to hide her second life from her family. As her addiction spirals out of control, however, her two lives threaten to meet. This book is truly bolstered by its dark yet incisive characterizations, making it at once a compelling psychodrama and a chilling character study. Again, this book could be perfect for a character-driven reader who doesn’t mind delving into the mind of flawed characters, but others may want to look elsewhere.
Written in a very similar style to Adele is Looker by Laura Sims, which is an intensifying and occasionally suspenseful character study that follows a women who is gradually losing her grip on reality. The unnamed narrator is a middle-aged evening school professor who recently separated from her husband after many years battling infertility. She lives in an unnamed city (that sounds a lot like Brooklyn) next door to an unnamed famous actress. The narrator fanaticizes about the actress’s glamourous, seemingly perfect life. She becomes obsessed and her obsession compels her to do odd things such as stealing castoff objects left outside in the actress’s garden and using them to build a shrine to her in her apartment. Finally, at a block party, the narrator decides to finally to make meaningful contact with the actress (maybe they can be friends!) but things do not go as planned. From there, things begin to spiral out of control.
You can reserve any of these books at your branch of the County of Lennox & Addington Libraries or online at CountyLibrary.ca. And if you are wondering what kind of reader you are (character-driven or otherwise), simply try this: 1) think about your favourite book, 2) start to tell someone about the book, 3) take note of what is the first thing you mention in your description. Either you’ll start by describing a loveable or intriguing character, the book’s beautiful or unique prose, it’s fascinating or immersive setting, or an edge-of-your-seat storyline. If you are still unclear, or would like to discuss further, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy reading!
This article was originally published in The Napanee Beaver.