Heather Darwent's favourite books with morally grey characters

By Viking Books UK

Heather Darwent's favourite books with morally grey characters

By Viking Books UK

Heather Darwent is a debut author based near Edinburgh. Her novel, The Things We Do To Our Friends, is published in January 2023 by Viking Books. To celebrate, she discusses her favourite books with morally grey characters.


I am often drawn to books with morally grey characters. Like many other readers, perfectly sympathetic beings who behave quite correctly all the time tend not to interest me so much. If I interrogate just why that is, I think it’s the voyeur within me that delights in seeking out a darker side, as the characters vocalise shameful thoughts that no one dares to say out loud. Many protagonists in my chosen selection have more than a shred of relatability to them, and I believe that there’s genuine comfort to be found in the murkiness of the human nature. So, here are some of my favourite books with morally grey characters.

The Plot

Jean Hanff Korelitz

£9.99 £9.49

Jean Hanff Korelitz is an auto-buy author for me, and her startling thriller 'The Plot' blew me away. We follow the discontented protagonist, Jacob Finch Bonner, as he justifies stealing a brilliant plot from a student who has died. It’s a wild ride, full of actions erring on corrupt. I love this author because the prose is quite dense, and it means you feel fully part of the world. It’s also brilliantly paced. Definitely one of my favourites from 2021.

Her Perfect Twin: Skilfully plotted, full of twists and turns, this is THE must-read can't-look-away thriller of the year

Sarah Bonner

£8.99 £8.54

'Her Perfect Twin' by Sarah Bonner opens with the most shocking of starts as our protagonist kills her identical twin. The catty nature that Bonner adds to the narratives is very addictive, and there’s no doubt that these characters aren’t the most likeable. The addition of a gaslighting spouse and a splendid array of dastardly behaviour make for a pacy read.

Summer House with Swimming Pool

Herman (Author) Koch


Translated by Sam Garrett. Dubious morals form the crux of this excellent novel. It’s not an easy read, and it features one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve ever encountered (and enjoyed). Dr. Marc Schlosser lets his anger fester as things start to spiral out of control on a family holiday that brims with excruciating tension in every interaction. It’s dark and beautifully written.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation: The cult New York Times bestseller

Ottessa Moshfegh

£9.99 £9.49

The unnamed narrator in 'My Year of Rest and Relaxation' is unlikeable, but this did not hamper my enjoyment of this book at all. Extremely privileged and caustic in her social interactions, it’s a strain to comprehend her worldview, but as the trauma in her past becomes apparent, it makes some of her actions a little more understandable. Razor-sharp observations are aplenty and the side characters (her desperate and hilarious ‘best’ friend and an eccentric psychiatrist) are deliciously drawn.

Not Safe For Work: Author of the viral essay 'My boyfriend, a writer, broke up with me because I am a writer'

Isabel Kaplan

£16.99 £16.14

I can’t resist a workplace setting, and here Isabel Kaplan’s protagonist is confronted by a gripping moral dilemma. The mother in the book is painted as deeply difficult, with questionable principles. I thought this book was fascinating because it doesn’t necessarily just portray only the characters as morally grey, as the film industry is shown as verging on amoral right from the outset. The ending of this book stayed with me for a long time.

The Truth Will Out: The tense and utterly gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat

Rosemary Hennigan

£8.99 £8.54

This atmospheric read features charismatic, self-serving Eabha, as she embarks on the staging of a play based on a terrible night from her past. I loved this compelling literary thriller, and the characters all have their own vices and desires that inform their behaviours. I found myself questioning their motives throughout, which kept me on tenterhooks. It’s a good one for those who like an immersive setting – the theatre acts as a rich backdrop.

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