Literature has seen its fair share of unsavoury characters – as the trailer drops for the adaptation of John Niven’s ‘Kill Your Friends’, we trace the lowest of the low
Literature has always held a torch for the antihero. Authors look to them to represent the very worst in humanity, or themselves – the psychotic, the socipathic and the immoral. They’re often deviants, addicts or devils. More often than not the exaggerated character of literary villains makes them completely fucking terrifying.
This week the trailer for Kill Your Friends came out, a film adaptation of John Niven’s classic debut novel. The plot centres around Steven Stelfox, a not-so-highflying A&R executive working at a UK record label during the debauched Britpop era of the 1990s. Stelfox is a desperate, conniving hedonist, who’ll stop at nothing to actually mean something. These are the most dangerous characters – the competitive lost boys searching for social standing in a big, bad world.
Niven certainly wasn’t the first author to make use of the "piece of shit protagonist" and he won’t be the last. In honour of another antihero hitting the big screen, we look at the lowest of the low in literature. Did we miss any?
BEGBIE – TRAINSPOTTING
Irvine Welsh’s Francis Begbie is utterly unhinged, a man consumed by a total, unwavering commitment to violence. The Glaswegian will fight you for looking at him, he’ll put a pool cue through you for opening a bag of crisps and he’ll glass you for laughing. We’ve all been near this breed of about-to-fuck-you-up brawn before – there’s a toned down Begbie in most city centre pubs waiting to "take you outside" for the most minor of indiscretions. Welsh actually reintroduced Begbie to the world in 2013 with an exclusive short story that imagined Begbie just released from prison, his life changed after finding meaning in art. Enough of that though, here’s a video of him kicking fuck out of everyone in the Danny Boyle-directed screen adaptation.
JOHN SELF – MONEY
Martin Amis’ John Self is the ultimate consumer eating, fucking and buying his way through the gluttonous, corporate corridors of 1980s New York. Much in the same way that Mad Men has a reputation for unrealistic excess (how do they drink that much?), the ad director Self shoves literally anything into his body at breakneck speed – porn, booze and drugs. But there is no glamour here. In reality, the monstrous maniac is lonely, mentally unstable and manipulated by others equally – if not more – fucked up than he is.
TYLER DURDEN – FIGHT CLUB
Made famous by Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and David Fincher but created by American author Chuck Palahniuk, Durden is the frightening figment of an office worker’s sick mind, an embodiment of a dissatisfaction with life so total that he is created as a vessel for the narrator’s wildest, violent fantasies. Durden the devious "ghost" goads his inventor to plumb the depths of humanity, while simultaneously leading "Project Mayhem", an anti-corporate army assembled to crush capitalist America. Durden consistently manipulates his weaker alter ego in pursuit of reaching new nadirs, culminating in suicide by shotgun.
RIP – LESS THAN ZERO
In a novel full of scumbags, Rip somehow really manages to stand out. Bret Easton Ellis has an uncanny knack for writing novels containing absolutely no likeable characters that still make for riveting reads. Less Than Zero is Easton Ellis’ debut, a "coming of age" novel depicting the adolescent lives of super privileged LA kids. Rip is a local drug dealer who maliciously employs an emotional slave called Julian who he forces into prostitution in order to pay off a debt. Not only that, but he also drugs a 12-year old girl towards the end of the book and encourages other associates to abuse her. Utterly depraved, unlikable and most depressing of all, just totally bored.
PATRICK BATEMAN – AMERICAN PSYCHO
The tour-de-force of total bastards and a second entry from American author Bret Easton Ellis. Psychotic, serial killing Patrick Bateman is without doubt a complex character – charming yet rancidly insecure, fiercely competitive and yet totally blasé, sharply judgemental of others and terrified what people think of him. Oh, and he delights in murdering a shit load of people.
"Bateman" has become a word synonymous with an extremist yuppie lifestyle – condominiums, cocaine and corporate client dinners. Bateman’s brand of killing is particularly unsettling because it appears to have no fixed direction and consequently no endgame. He murders women in sexual frenzies, men because they annoy him and homeless people because he thinks he’s better than them.
Compellingly brought to life by Christian Bale, Bateman is one of the biggest shits to have ever graced the pages.