Feature

6 chilling books with troubled narrators

English writer Joanne Harris recommends six works of fiction narrated by unsettling characters

English writer Joanne Harris recommends six works of fiction narrated by unsettling characters.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (Simon & Schuster, $15).

Narrated by 16-year-old Frank Cauldhame, this chilling and thought-provoking 1984 novel deals with the everyday life of a tiny Scottish island community and the secret life of a very disturbed teenager. Brutal, stark, and visceral, with moments of existentialist humor, it continues to divide readers and critics as violently as any novel since A Clockwork Orange.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Penguin, $17).

Two sisters live with their ailing uncle in a small Vermont town, shunned by their community since the poisoning of the rest of their family. Younger sister Merricat, Jackson's disturbing and delightfully weird narrator, is one of the most endearing psychopaths in literature.

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester (Picador, $17).

A sinister, clever comedy, featuring the sentimental journey of a middle-aged gourmand. Tarquin Winot travels to Provence while revealing his past via a series of gastronomic vignettes. He's a marvelous creation: articulate, superbly delusional, and as devoted to French cuisine as he is to murder.

Edith's Diary by Patricia Highsmith (Grove, $13.50).

Highsmith's most underrated work is a dark glimpse into the underbelly of small-town America. Edith Howland, a middle-aged woman discarded by her husband and frustrated with her life, conjures her ideal existence through a series of increasingly surreal diary entries. Through her eyes, the truth emerges in glimpses as we head toward a conclusion as poignant as it is chilling.

The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer (Vintage U.K., $6).

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Witty and wholly original, this tale is narrated by an ancient Sumerian bowl. The bowl acts as a vessel containing 5,000 years of human history. It is also able to communicate with those who handle it, reading their memories and commenting on the inadequacies of their lives.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (Vintage, $17).

Twelve-year-old Harriet and a friend set off to avenge the unexplained and violent murder of Harriet's brother, who was killed a decade earlier. The Little Friend is a slow-burning novel of suspense, an exploration of grief, and an evocation of a child's attempt to understand her world that contains echoes of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

— English writer Joanne Harris is the author of 14 novels, including the 1999 best-seller Chocolat and the new boarding school–set thriller, Different Class.

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