Jan 15 2015 1:00pm

Six Obsessive Characters in Fiction

Sometimes it's love. Sometimes it's revenge. And sometimes it's the refusal to change. Obsession can hijack anyone, and Phil Hogan has compiled a list of six of the most obsessive characters in fiction. Readers can comment below to be entered for a chance to win a copy of A Pleasure and a Calling, Phil's own obsessive thriller. Let's obsess!


Humbert Humbert Lolita

From his opening words – “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins” – the urbane, nymphet-adoring hero (if that’s the right word) of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 classic stakes his claim as the grandaddy of obsessives. He is certainly one of the most persuasive. That the reader is made complicit, however uncomfortably, in the sexual grooming and violation of 12-year-old Dolores Haze is a mark of Nabokov’s brilliance – not just in his handling of language and character, but in fathoming the corrupting possibilities of the first-person narrator. How far will he – and we – go? The siren song of the amoral, self-justifying aesthete has been heard high and low throughout literature but with no sweeter compulsion than here.


Jay Gatsby – The Great Gatsby

First love is the worst love, or at least the hardest to shake off. That’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald seems to be saying in this Prohibition-era story of a good-looking boy from the wrong side of the tracks who returns a millionaire to rescue the sweetheart of his youth from a cold marriage. In Gatsby we have a man – with his mansion and champagne parties and colourful silk shirts – who could have any woman he wants. But Daisy – a girl off-limits to the young, penniless “Gatz” – remains “the one” precisely because she’s the one he could never have. It looks like a romance but it’s more desperate than that: it’s about selfhood and the alluring American myth that a nobody can become a somebody. Without the princess, however, there can be no prince.


Tom Ripley – The Talented Mr. Ripley

Personal reinvention is also the driving force behind Patricia Highsmith’s cold-blooded antihero. One minute he’s in New York City sweating a living from petty scams, the next he’s on the Italian Riviera, pretending to be something he’s not. Ripley is no murderer when he arrives with his winning smile and gift of mimicry, but exposure to the high life – jazz, nice clothes, the proximity of family wealth in the shape of carefree dilettante artist Dickie Greenleaf – turns him into one, or at least when this heady, newfound paradise threatens to evaporate. Tom’s slow transformation from Dickie’s wide-eyed admirer into a killer is chilling enough; Highsmith’s true masterstroke, though, is to have Ripley literally step into his dead new best friend’s shoes. One of modern fiction’s most original psychopaths.


Rob Fleming – High Fidelity

With the success of his soccer fan-memoir Fever Pitch in the early Nineties, Nick Hornby established a literary niche for a particular sort of male obsessive. He repeated the trick with a terrific comic novel, High Fidelity, set in a small record shop in which owner Rob and his nerdy assistants, Dick and Barry, spend their hours in competitive displays of pop knowledge and compiling obscurely themed top 5 lists of songs and much else. As the novel opens, Rob’s long-term girlfriend has unsurprisingly dumped him, raising the zeitgeist-y issue of the modern British male’s seeming refusal to abandon laddish preoccupations and commit to a grown-up relationship. Hornby may not have invented the bite-sized cultural “list” – an obsession that now plagues every magazine, newspaper and website, including, of course, this one (Editorial Note: Hey now! Obviously, you haven't seen our 6 reasons why lists aren't such a bad thing.)  – but he is impressively guilty of getting that ball rolling.


Barbara Covett – Notes on a Scandal

My apologies for the paucity of female characters on my list, but this one will more than do, I think. The clever thing about Zoe Heller’s 2006 novel is the slow realisation that the story you think you’re reading is not quite the one being told – a sign, as it turns out, of a deliciously nuanced, unreliable narrator. Here is Barbara, a respectable older schoolteacher, recounting the calamitous doings of her younger colleague Sheba, who has been having sexual relations with a 15-year-old boy in her art class, and is now in the middle of the erupting brouhaha. The more insidious infatuation, though, is that of Barbara herself, revealed as a lonely manipulative spinster wheedling her way into Sheba’s enviable sunny life. Soon she is quite the mother hen, sheltering Sheba from the media storm and betrayed loved ones. Well, what are friends for?


Captain Ahab – Moby-Dick

No account of fictional monomaniacs would be complete without throwing oneself to the four winds of Herman Melville’s 1851 sea-faring epic of man versus beast. Scholars will laud Moby-Dick for its narrative power, its kaleidoscopic range of allusion, its proto-existential piquancy, and surprisingly detailed chapters about the whaling industry; the more casual reader will marvel at what happens when an enthusiasm for fishing gets out of hand. Somewhere in the middle, though, is the classic revenge novel. Who, having had their leg bitten off by a whale, would not themselves take up a harpoon in grim pursuit of the culprit? Having said that, few readers in Melville’s lifetime thought it was a grudge worth carrying for 927 pages (first London edition). It took a world war and the birth of modernism before the literary world awoke to his rambling genius.

This sweepstakes has ended.

Comment below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan, a psychological thriller with its own obsessed character.

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 A Pleasure and a Calling Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) January 15, 2015. Sweepstakes ends 12:59 p.m. ET January 22, 2015. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Phil Hogan was born in a small town in northern England, and now lives in a small town in southern England. A journalist for twenty-five years, he has written for The Observer and The Guardian. He is married with four children.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Sally Schmidt
1. bigcootie
Good list. Some I knew, some I didn't. More for my TBR.
Jody Darden
3. jldarden
Some great stories here! "A pleasure and a calling" looks creepily disturbing. Would love to read it.
Sherry Schwabacher
6. sherrykaraoke
Two of my favorite obsessives - Tom Ripley and Barbara Covett!
7. Melissa Alcozer
This could keep me busy for a while.
9. Stephanie N Webb
Would love to read all of these!
Sandy Klocinski
10. SKlocinski
A Pleasure and a Calling looks like an interesting (but creepy) story
11. ellhesmay
Can't wait to get my hands on this book!!
Chris Noe
13. ezmerelda
These types of lists always make me want to read the books that I have not read yet. Thanks!
Sab Edwards
21. binabug
I think you have to include that movie with Brooke Sheilds ? the one where he burns the house down cus he's in love with her ...stalker guy ..damned what was it called?
Russell Moore
22. russrpm
An obsession of on type or another is at the heart of most great fiction. Good list, though.
23. KGonyea
Looks wonderful :)
24. runner
Groovy Six Obsessive Characters in Fiction!
Janice Santillo
26. themommazie
Interesting choices. Will have to make sure to read all choices on the list.
Linda Knowles
27. strigoivii
Ahab, the most obsessive of the obsessive!
28. Tom Gibson
thanks for this nice giveaway!
29. Stephanie MacDonald
thanks for the chance
Tammy Hastings
31. katiesmom22
This is awesome, thank you for the giveaway
lynette thompson
Thriller, love it. Now were talking a good read
keith james
34. kdj617
Thanks again for introducing me to a new novel.
38. jpl123456
A WINNER. I want.
Let me win. I deserve it.
Jeffrey Malis
39. bravejam
Great topic... Thanks for the article and the opportunity!
Chi Shannon
40. anastasiafall
I could use a psycological thrill :) Putting my name in the hat for this one :)
Diane Chenier
47. slcrose
Yep, need to add some of these to my must read list.
Betty Woodrum
48. BLW
This is a great list. All the choices are great, especially Barbara Covett – Notes on a Scandal. I think we've all met people who seem to be so caring and concerned so that it takes awhile before it begins to dawn on you that there is a hidden agenda. Thank you for the article and the opportunity to win a copy of A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan.
Vernon Luckert
49. vl4095
Looks like some great reads - would love to win!
Becky Hantsbarger
50. BeckyIA
Brilliant list. Thank you for compiling it and for the giveaway.
Shelley Scaramuzzo
51. mrsdraiman
Fantastic list! No matter how many times I've read Gatsby and the Ripley series, they are still just as good as the first read. Same with High Fidelity.
Anna Mills
52. Anna Mills
The altenater went out on my son's Jeep, so I will be babysitting my very own grandchildren while he repairs it and I need this book to survive!
Sharon Shumway
53. Shellen
Captain Ahab the most obsessive, I say Gatsby and Humbert Humbert for
second then comes Ripley and I haven't read the other 2, but they on my list now. I would love to win A PLEASURE AND A CALLING. Thank You.
Angel Wilde
56. Angel2stamp
Nice looking list of reads. Would love to sing!
Marie-Louise Molloy
58. Wezzie
Read them all, now wanted to get to know Hogan's obsessive character!
Jeanette Barney
59. eyeluvbooks59
I am planning to read A Pleasure and a Calling. Would love to win it!
Bonnie Karoly
60. grobiemum
I thought Matt Damon was awesome as Mr. Ripley. I was practically gripping my seat when I watched this movie. It was very well done. I need to get the book. I, also, watched Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal. She sort of extudes creepiness. LOL Well done.

bluedawn95864 at gmail dot com
Michael Carter
61. rubydog
I would love to win.
Yes, please enter me in the sweepstakes.
Lori Provenzano
63. Mountainesque
Oh, no! I know there are at least a few characters in other books I've read that easily fill this bill, but at the moment I can't think of who they are. I'll have to obsess on this for awhile.
Sally Winkleblech
66. sallyw
This is a great list, I have read several on the list. I look forward to reading your new book, sounds like it will be on this list too.
Janice Milliken
67. msjiva
Another psychological thriller to add to my list! How lovely!
Karen Koziczkowski
68. zoom38
I love psychological thrillers. I try to guess who the killer/badperson is.
susan beamon
69. susanbeamon
Interesting list of books. I read some of them back in my college days, not because they were required but because they were more interesting than the books that were required. Humbert and Mr Ripley both killed that boring Augie Marsh.
Lynn Jarrett
70. OkieReader
I found a couple of new titles to add to my list of books to read. Thank you.
v cess
71. AbbieNormal
Not one of those guys could top a Jeter fan in 2014. Lol!
Kris Kaminski
72. kjkski
good mix, have to sheck out the ones I haven't read!
Dan Carr
73. punky
Another one to add the the TBR pile.
Tawney Mazek
80. tmaze
Must add Notes on a Scandal to the To Read list - along with A Pleasure and a Calling.
Donna Bruno
81. dlbawiles
I never would have thought to put Captain Ahab on there- good call!
Karen Terry
82. bblol65
I loved Moby Dick. I read the book a long time ago. It was the best.
84. codinick
This sounds like an intriguing read! Thanks for the opportunity!
Shari Klyn
85. bookluvr
My favorite thing to do is read books and magazines. Thank you so much for the chance to win an intriguing book.
Valeen Nielson
87. Valeen
Love the list! Some of the most intriguing characters! I'm excited for the chance to win this book! Thanks so much for the opportunity!
Heather Martin
90. CrystalMirror
HIgh Fidelty makes me laugh at random times, even 15 years after reading it. But, don't forget John Foweles The Collecter.
93. PaigeEJagan
Thank you! These all look great!
Buddy Garrett
94. garrettsambo
It is an interesting list of six obsessive characters in fiction.
Carrie Conley
96. weeziestoy
I love thrillers...Moby Dick is what hooked me...
Heather Cowley
97. choochoo
Haven't read some of those. Will certainly have to!
100. tiac35
Seems like something that I would enjoy.
Mary Ann Brady
105. mirahana
Sounds fantastic. Thx for the contest.
Melissa Keith
107. melly801
Interesting post. I want to read HIGH FIDELITY.
I would LOVE to win A PLEASURE AND A CALLING!! I want to read it very badly. I'm OBSESSED with it!!
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