Top Ten Tuesday – Books for People Who Like Their Novels Bleak as Hell

You know how sometimes, you just want to read a depressing as crap novel full of wholly unlikable characters? No? Weird. I get that feeling all the time. Well, not all the time, but often. These are the books I find myself drawn to the most. The ones that get the highest ratings from me. Books where there characters are strong and detailed but not entirely/remotely likable. These novels usually involve some pretty intensely depressing storylines.

This week, the ladies over at the B&B have asked us to recommend books for people that like a specific genre/style/format/whatever. So, I’m picking the type of book I just described. The one where you can just sink into someone else’s misery. Not to hide from your own or whatever, but just because you can. One of the things I hate to read in reviews is that a book is crap because the characters are unlikable. I’ve said it multiple times- I do not hate unlikable characters. In fact, I often prefer them. I don’t need to like a character to like a novel. A completely unlikable main character will draw me in more than someone who’s polished and inviting. These are people I would never want in my real life, but in books, they’re just too enticing. Nice characters are just so dull.

I’ve divided these into three groups for those of you with genre preferences.

Young Adult fiction is a smorgasbord of offputting characters, but let’s face it, teens are pretty awful when they want to be. So, there were lots of novels to choose from in this genre (I’m pretty sure Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers will live here – I’m only 40 pages in and Parker is one of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read – but I’m not finished it yet, so this is its honorable mention).


Dare Me by Megan Abbott

A book about the way teenage girls hate – not only the people that don’t fit into their circles, but themselves and their friends. Obsession and hatred in perfect bodies. Abbott handles the subject matter expertly.


Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anorexia and self-hatred. A deeply disturbed main character that you just want to shake some sense into. How guilt can drive a person to hurt everyone. How physicality can become the only defining characteristic. A beautifully written story of pain and ugliness. (review)


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A gorgeously written novel with one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve read in the YA genre. A self-pitying mess of a character drowning in herself. A terribly depressing novel about family destruction. (review)


Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert

This one fits the bleak angle more than the unlikable characters. These are very realistic teens from the 90s. They are offputting and gritty and so believable. The story is heartbreaking though, and a lot of that is because of the complexity of the characters.


Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

This book is likely to turn some stomachs. The central character is someone we desperately want to feel bad for but who makes it very hard to do so. The story is exceptionally depressing because of the depravity and reality of what’s happening. There are zero likable characters in the novel with an equally lacking amount of hope. (review)

Mystery/Crime novels are a virtual battle ground of poorly written, flat characters. The MCs are often meant to be gruff and unlikable but come across as pulpy and bland. Now, don’t get me wrong, pulp has its place, and good pulp is super enjoyable, but that’s not the kind of character I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a realistic character that heads up a novel and provokes almost no sympathy. Crime novels are pretty much depressing by nature. Something bad has to have happened or there would be no novel.


Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride

One of the best descriptions I’ve read for this book is ‘relentlessly dark’. It never lets up. Horrible things just keep happening to these people. The torment never stops. There are secrets held by almost every character. Everything is unsettling. The detective at the centre of the case is an unlikable bastard and the people around him are equally hard to relate to. It’s a damn unsettling read.

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Gillian Flynn

All of them – no one writes an unlikable character driven mystery quite like Flynn. I could not narrow this down to just one. All three of her books fit this category perfectly. They are basically perfection in paper. (Gone Girl review / Sharp Objects review)


The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

A crime novel that’s less about the crime and more about the people (as any good story is). This book challenges the reader about preconceived notions. Can criminals ever be sympathetic? When our two main characters are both criminals, can the book be anything but depressing? Can you ever really like these characters? (review)

Contemporary literature… is there a place more likely to find depressing character driven novels full of unlikable characters? No. That’s part of what makes them fit into the category. They tend to be books that show up on best seller lists and then ‘book club people’ (sorry, my snob is showing) complain because they couldn’t connect with the book because the characters were so mean.


The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling 

It’s not Harry Potter. The characters are awful. There’s not magic. Wah. Wah. Boo hoo. This is a novel that captures the craptacular nature of growing up in a small (minded and sized) town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. And yeah, no one’s likable, cause that’s generally true. It’s pretty damn bleak.


The Furies by Natalie Haynes

Fucking depressing. Death. Desperation. Loss. Troubled students. Giving up on life. That basically sums up this masterpiece of sadness. The character you think you’re supposed to feel for is so disconnected she’s hard to connect with. The character trying to do something good is so out of touch with what that actually means that she’s impossible to like.


Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

This is a book where our main character never figures her shit out and as I said in my review, that makes her relatable but not likable. She just never gets it together. The whole book is spent hoping she’ll figure it out but knowing that she won’t. Depressing doesn’t even begin to describe the mood of this novel. More like suffocating. (review)

Do you like this style of books? Have I missed anything you really love? What would you recommend?


9 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday – Books for People Who Like Their Novels Bleak as Hell

  1. I know what you mean about wanting to read a really, really dark book. That said, I’m not always in the mood for it… I admit to being quite shocked by just how horrible the characters in The Casual Vacancy were. Gone Girl delights in how unredeemable most of the characters are- I love it!

    • Agreed. I’m not always in the mood for them – especially as the weather starts to warm up. I used to live in a place that reminds me so much of the location in CV. The people were so familiar. I could relate to that story in some uncomfortable ways.

    • I adored We Were Liars. I just loved the way it was written. It’s a polarizing book. People either love it or hate it. Hopefully, you’ll find something else you like from these recommendations. You might also want to check out This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. It didn’t make this list, but it’s got a good dark vibe to it as well. Also, I just read it so I’m recommending it all over the place! I’ll head over and check out your list.

      • I’ll make sure to check it out! 🙂 We Were Liars was indeed a polarizing book and I totally loved how it was written. The way the author depicted pain was outstanding!

  2. I still need to read We Are Liars. I just ordered it, so hopefully soon! 🙂 and I loved Gone Girl, but I have never read any other books written by Gillian Flynn. I should since I enjoyed Gone Girl so much!

    • You should absolutely read more Flynn! I actually like Dark Places the best of the three. It’s just so damn dark. I’m impatiently waiting for her to come out with a new book!

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