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The best book characters I’ve encountered recently

As an introvert, I find that book characters can be better company than real people. Rather than exhausting me as social occasions sometimes do, they make no demands of me. I don’t have to put on makeup, or even pants to enjoy time with them; I don’t need to make conversation or smile – I can enjoy their company while lying in bed, enjoying the sunshine on the beach or commuting to work on the train.

While I like them all, whether wittily cruel or unfeasibly adoring, there are some that I absolutely adore. The only ones that I’m not too sure about are the ones who seem a little too good to be true.

These are the characters that I find myself wistfully wishing I knew. Here are my recent favourites.

  • Count Alexander Rostov from A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Is there anyone with whom you would prefer to spend an evening over a bottle of Chardonnay?

Count Alexander Rostov is the archetypical mild-mannered man who seems to take life as it is offered, making the most of even a very challenging situation.

Locked up in a Russian hotel for the crime of being an aristocrat.

So, what did I love about him? I loved that he was a creature of habit (as I am), that he gained happiness from the smallest thing, including his meagre and uninspiring breakfast, and he was so easily convinced, even when it came to adopting the daughter of an old friend so easily.

And yet, when it mattered, Count Rostov was surprisingly steely.

  • Willem in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

In a book that is so devastating, Willem was a shining light of love and devotion. A famous movie star, he was relentlessly loyal to a character who did not always treat him with the same care, no matter how much he loved him.

Willem’s only flaw was that he was almost too good to be true, but in this emotionally draining book, that goodness was not a mere confection but a relief and necessity.

  • Thomas Cromwell in the Wolf Hall trilogy

Apparently, in real life Thomas Cromwell was cruel and calculating, holding ambitiously on to power at King Henry VIII’s side.

In Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series, he is intelligent and measured, providing counsel to those unnerved by the king’s temper and unpredictability.

At the end of the trilogy, when the inevitable occurred and King Henry turned on Cromwell, I found myself in tears. Just don’t tell me he is a baddie.

  • Laurie in Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna

As a boy, Laurie was studious and creative, basking in the beauty of the Grampians near his home. It is this Laurie who the reader loses midway through the novel, when he is changed by a man he had loved and trusted.

The loss of this boy is devastating to his brother, who doesn’t understand the change in Laurie’s behaviour. As a reader, I mourned the adult Laurie could have become, and the childhood he lost.

However, there is also something appealing about the adult Laurie, who is always searching for beauty among the ruins of his old life.

He captures the beauty of the natural world in his paintings, and sees enormous beauty in the children he encounters.

His stunted life is devastating and unnerving, but it is difficult not to feel affection for this man/boy.

  • Patroclus in The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Every enslaved Trojan woman needs someone like Patroclus around to protect her. When Queen Briseis is captured by the legendary Achilles, her life becomes one of degradation and shame.

After Briseis’s family has been murdered by the Greek forces, only Patroclus offers her kindness, and his presence offers the reader hope of a better future for Briseis, despite the treatment she and the other women captive in the camp outside Troy endure.

  • Arty in Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

In the category of being so bad they are good, is Arty, also known as Artura the Aqua Boy, who was born with flippers instead of wings.

It says a lot about the book that Arty is the least strange of the characters, although he is definitely the meanest.

Arty is bent on power and popularity and will do anything to achieve those ends.

But no matter who cruel he is, somehow Arty manages to win over anyone he chooses to manipulate, including the book’s narrator, his sister.

And in the same way, the reader is also drawn into the extravagant awfulness of Arty as his behaviour becomes more and more outrageous.

  • Queenie in Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

I can’t get enough of Candice Carty-Williams’ dialogue, especially when Queenie and her friends get together.

Their humour is dry and they are always laughing, and I want to spend time with them all over after-work drinks. I want to hear of their romantic trevails, and if I wasn’t happily married, I would want to laugh off my dating failures with them.

I love how Queenie and her crew provide cameraderie and support as they brave the wilds of dating in London.

  • Olive in Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

There is something appealing about someone who is hilariously grumpy and blunt, while also surprisingly kind-hearted when necessary.

Olive is all of those things and more. She is complicated and mean and kind and frustrating.

When she talks to her son and his wife, you want her to shut up, until she turns around and says something that is heartbreakingly sad.

Perhaps it is this vulnerability that makes Olive so appealing. She is a typically, relatably flawed human whose grumpiness often masks her shame.

While no-one would want her as a mother, she is irresistible company in the pages of a book.

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