On Saturday’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I took a little look at a selection of angry books – or rather, books that feature memorably angry characters. There were two reasons for this… Firstly, I’ve had a tough week, and I thought it would be cathartic to spend a couple of hours enjoying a bit of literary rage. And secondly, I felt like there was some unfinished business from a show I did back in July 2018!
Last summer, I did a show about the Seven Deadly Sins and played a bit of a mean trick. I listed books for six of the seven sins, but then left Anger hanging (to make you angry). To make up for that, I thought I’d better put together an entire reading list for the final Deadly Sin. And, as promised on the show, here are the books I put on that list…
If you disagree with my choices, or think I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments below!
I thought it was only fair to start with the obligatory weekly mention of Stephen King! My first thought for this list was Carrie, a book that’s definitely about rage. But I included Carrie on another of my reading lists, so I’ve selected Misery for this one. In case you’re unfamiliar with Misery, the book is about a romance writer named Paul Sheldon. After completing the last book in his Misery Chastain series and beginning a new project, Sheldon is involved in a serious car accident. Fortunately (or not, as it turns out), he is rescued by a woman named Annie Wilkes. Annie is Sheldon’s ‘number 1 fan’, and takes him back to her home to take care of him. And it all goes a bit wrong from there…
Annie Wilkes is a great example of an angry character. I love the way that, on the surface, she is sweet and wholesome – apparently just a devoted fan of Misery Chastain’s adventures. However, when she flips she really flips. Annie’s rages are iconic, not least because of Kathy Bates’s portrayal of the character in the 1990 film version.
From unhinged rages to angry young men now… Alan Sillitoe’s debut novel may not have been the first text to introduce the character of the ‘angry young man’ (that credit is usually given to John Osborne’s 1956 play Look Back in Anger), but Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has a very good example of this particular type of anti-hero.
Sillitoe’s novel introduces Arthur Seaton, a young man working in a bicycle factory in Nottingham. Bright but disaffected, Arthur is angry – at the world he lives in, the world his parents’ generation have created and perpetuated. He’s not looking to start a revolution or a class war, but rather to rail against society in his own (rather selfish way). He drinks, he shouts, he picks fights. And, perhaps most significantly for the plot of the novel, he has an affair with a married woman (something which will have serious consequences for Arthur at the end of the novel’s first section, ‘Saturday Night’). Like Annie Wilkes, Arthur Seaton is now also perhaps best-known from the film adaptation of the novel in which he appears. In 1960, Sillitoe adapted his novel into a realist ‘kitchen sink drama’ film, and the part of Arthur was played by Albert Finney.
It was a bit naughty including this book on the list, as it could be argued that listing it as a book about anger is a wee bit of a spoiler. But Flynn’s novel (and the 2014 film adaptation) is pretty well-known now, so I thought I’d take the risk of adding it to the list.
Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a married couple with a bit of a rocky relationship (to say the least). The book’s central plot is the disappearance of Amy, and the suspicion that falls on Nick in the aftermath. Has he killed his wife? What secrets is he hiding? The narrative switches between two perspectives: the ‘present day’ storyline of Amy’s disappearance and the subsequent investigation (told from Nick’s point-of-view), and section’s from Amy’s diary outlining the history of her relationship with her husband. Nick presents Amy as a difficult and irrational woman; Amy describes Nick as aggressive and petulant. There are a lot of grumpy people in Gone Girl, but – make no mistake – there is also a deep and powerful rage that underlies the story.
I wanted to include a children’s book on the list, and what better example could I give? Mr Grumpy is, after all, the walking embodiment of grumpiness. He’s even rude to Mr Happy!
One of the original series of Mr Men created by Roger Hargreaves, I was always a bit fascinated by Mr Grumpy. He wasn’t my favourite, but there was something very intriguing about his anti-social anger. I think the bit that really captured my childish imagination was Mr Grumpy’s irrational hatred of books – he sits down of an evening, picks up a book, and tears all the pages out. As a bit of a bookworm child, this image really stuck in my mind! Imagine being so angry, you can’t stand the concept of books and reading!
Unlike most of the characters on this list, Mr Grumpy is eventually rehabilitated – or, rather, forced into a more cheerful mood through a plan by Mr Happy and Mr Tickle. Nevertheless, he doesn’t completely change his ways, and so I think he deserves his place on today’s list!
Thomas Malory’s famous reworking (and original versions) of medieval tales of King Arthur and his knights contains numerous examples of angry individuals and people losing their temper. In fact, by the end of the tales, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no one in Camelot who could keep a cool head. But, for today’s reading list, I’m interested in one particular hothead.
Sir Lancelot might be a poster-boy for courtly and chivalric wooing, but he’s also a character with a history of losing his temper. Worse, he’s prone to bouts of utterly chaotic irrationality, which invariably end with at least one body. Malory’s depiction of Lancelot as a victim of the ‘red mist’ is drawn from older French romances, but his take on the character certainly packs a bit of a punch. I talked specifically about Book VIII (known as ‘The Death of Arthur’), in which Lancelot’s blind rage results in the death of Sir Gawain’s brothers, Gareth and Gaheris, which sets a train of events in motion that tears down the very foundations of Arthur’s utopian society (I don’t think mentioning the fall of Camelot is really a spoiler, is it?). The mad fury of Lancelot in Malory’s tale (and in medieval romance generally) is probably the inspiration for the characterization in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Wild angry killing sprees are very much Lancelot’s ‘idiom’.
Since I was sort of using this reading list as a cathartic way to work through my bad mood, it seems appropriate to end with a character who is actually free from anger, rage and resentment. I have mentioned The Sculptress of the show before, as it’s a bit of a favourite of mine, but I haven’t yet included it on one of my themed lists.
The eponymous sculptress is Olive Martin, a woman convicted of the violent (and rage-filled) murders of her mother and sister. The book’s main protagonist is Rosalind Leigh, a journalist who’s been presured into writing about Olive by her publishers. When Roz meets Olive, she’s surprised to find a woman whose personality seems far removed from the brutality and anger of the crimes she’s meant to have committed. As the story unfolds, Roz starts to look into Olive’s background, and the original murder investigation, determined to uncover the truth behind the contradictory ‘sculptress’.
As I said, it seemed right to end with a character devoid of rage. And Olive Martin seems to fit the bill – she just isn’t the anger-and-hatred-filled monster she’s been painted as… or is she?
To hear more about these books, along with my rage-inspired playlight (and some relaxing bonus content in the form of recent theatre reviews), you can to listen again to Saturday’s show here: