Friday Faves: Flawed Characters

In Whiskey and Charlie both my title characters are what you might call ‘flawed’. My friend and mentor Richard Rossiter, when reading the manuscript for the first time, wrote in the margins ‘why is Charlie such a dickhead?’ But flawed characters can be compelling for a number of reasons – we might be rooting for them to turn their lives around, vicariously enjoying them behaving in ways we wish we might behave ourselves, or simply experiencing ‘the fascination of the abomination’.

For this week’s Friday Faves I invited some of my writing colleagues to share their favourite books featuring flawed characters:

Deb Fitzpatrick on Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

‘Flawed’ doesn’t touch the sides when it comes to Barney Panofsky, the narrator-protagonist in this award-winning novel by Canadian author Mordecai Richler.

Barney opens the fictional memoir by declaring that he is carrying a scandal that he will ‘take to my grave like a humpback’. He is already a self-accepted ‘social pariah’, known about town as ‘disagreeable, coarse, a sour and unattractive man’. Barney is a boozer, a womaniser, a scathing observer who hates other people almost as much as he hates himself. He is by turns repulsive and desperately sad.

Love, of course, is the source of this sadness, this self-loathing, the constant vomiting of vitriol. Barney may have been married three times, but his love for Miriam, who he speaks of in the language of poetry, is such that we can forgive him almost everything.

Deb Fitzpatrick‘s novels include The Break, and two Children’s Book Council Notable Books for Young Adults.

Jenny Valentish on My Summer of Love by Helen Cross

I’ve returned twice to this book, to revel in its unlovely protagonist, 15-year-old Mona.

 My Summer of Love is set in the recession of 1984 – Thatcher’s Britain – in a small market town in East Yorkshire. Let me say straight off the bat that there’s nothing like living in a British market town to inspire boredom and violence in equal measure. True to form, Mona is a drinker, a thief and a gambler on the fruit machines of the pub in which she lives. She’s pale, listless and directionless; yet an interesting enough narrator for us to get our hooks into. Mostly, she’s bored, so when posh girl Tamsin rides into her life on a pony called Willow, she’s instantly obsessed.

Tamsin seems impossibly exotic, a portal into another world. She’s been sent home from boarding school for some misdemeanor or other, her older sister died of an eating disorder and she plays the cello. Whereas nothing is expected of Mona in life, Tamsin is almost guaranteed to go off to a major university and get a career in public relations. The girls spiral into an obsessive friendship fuelled by lust and crime, yet we suspect Tamsin is only toying with Mona, trying on a different social class like a hat.

Jenny Valentish is the author of Cherry Bomb, published by Allen and Unwin

Nicole Melanson on Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann

Malina  is a novel that has haunted me ever since I read it (over 20 years ago!) It is an enigmatic, murky piece, equally praised and criticized for its complexity. It is a novel that never lets you relax or feel 100% confident that you understand what’s going on, but this is why I love it. You cannot be passively entertained by this book; you have to force your way in and become complicit in the story.

I think this novel offers a wonderful example of an unreliable narrator. The protagonist is hopelessly damaged, unable to find her place in a male-dominated world. Her mind makes disturbing connections between the horrors of WWII and her relationships with men. As the novel goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw a line between her distorted perspective on reality and actual events; everything has become personal for her, and ultimately, it is this neurotic interior monologue that effectively causes her to implode.

Nicole Melanson writes both poetry and fiction, and edits showcasing women’s work in the literary arts around the world.

Jodie How on Tim Hawken’s Hellbound

In his debut novel Yallingup author Tim Hawken has woven a convincing tale of unpretentious dark fantasy within a framework of deep philosophical thought.

Michael dies and is not surprised when he wakes up in Hell. Michael is a character I identify with. He’s confident, curious but also impatient and stubborn. His impatience often leads his quick temper to a flare up. He even goes so far as to argue with Satan. You might say he has a pair of balls and I love that about him.

Michael is an honest depiction of why you wouldn’t willingly accept a hellish fate, separated from the love of your life. In Hellbound, he begins on a quest to enter heaven and reclaim Charlotte as his eternal companion.

Jodie How is a writer who blogs about life, relationships, wellbeing and writing at

2 thoughts on “Friday Faves: Flawed Characters”

  1. Wow, I have only heard of the first one of those, Barney’s version by Mordecai Richler.

    I guess it depends on definition but in a way all characters are flawed aren’t they? If they were not, there’d be nothing to write about, though I suppose there is the odd book about paragons! As they say in the classics I suppose, every character is flawed, but some are more flawed than others. I guess the most recent flawed character I read, in terms of I think your question, would have to be Dorrigo Evans in Flanagan’s The narrow road to the deep north, He’s an example of the man who’s a hero in war but rather flawed in life. I wouldn’t say this was my favourite book featuring flawed characters but it’s a good example of one!

    1. Most interesting characters are flawed, I think. When I read a character that seems too perfect they don’t seem quite real. Because most humans are flawed. The ones I know, anyhow! Dorrigo didn’t really strike me as quite as flawed as Flanagan wanted him to be. What I mean by that is, he told us he was flawed, but I didn’t feel it in my bones. But I had so many issues with that book so maybe I shouldn’t comment!

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