Cold-hearted Characters

With the temperatures dropping & snow falling, the Robbins Library librarians discuss some of their favorite cold-hearted characters.


stephanieThe Wicked Witch of the West is so misunderstood.


LindaThe first character who came to mind is Rosa from The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky. This Russian mother thinks little of her daughter and meddles in her life with disastrous and tragic consequences. She’s almost admirable in her strength and resourcefulness, but her ruthlessness is frightening. This book never got the attention it deserved when it came out in 2011, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dark, quirky fiction.

The eponymous protagonist of Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh also fits the bill. Stuck in a life she hates, Eileen works at a boys’ prison and lives with her deranged alcoholic father. She is drawn into a crime by a new coworker, and this becomes the catalyst for finally leaving her town. Eileen paints an unflattering portrait of herself and inflictes punishments on herself for what she sees as her shortcomings. This is one of the darkest thrillers I’ve read, raw and gritty and unforgettable.


JennyThis is a tough one (but seasonally appropriate!). I feel like there are plenty I’m forgetting, but my first thought is Sherlock Holmes, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the recent British TV series Sherlock. He is brilliantly analytical and observant, but his powers of observation fail when it comes to social cues and interpersonal relations. He is generally on the side of the “good guys,” but he’s certainly a “means justify the ends” type, and he has zero bedside manner.


RobThough not physically present for much of the book, Ingrid Magnussen from White Oleander makes quite the impression as a cold-hearted character.  The plot centers around her daughter Astrid and how she deals with the aftermath of a destructive decision Ingrid makes.  Astrid constantly struggles with Ingrid’s specter.  Ingrid is an incredibly self-absorbed artist, prone to vicious outbursts when provoked.  She believes in art above all else, and has created her own brutal and bleak philosophy that she teaches a young Astrid in a tragically beautiful (and quotable) gospel.  Also made into a fantastic film starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

Another favorite is the titular Baru Cormorant, from The Traitor Baru Cormorant. She’s become cold-hearted as a way to infiltrate the Masquerade – a foreign government that has colonized her home island.  She joins them & rises within their ranks, hoping to dismantle the machine from the inside.  She learns that this is easier said than done when she’s appointed as the Imperial Accountant to another colonized land prone to rebellion.  Here she becomes ruthless & willing to do anything to achieve her goal – even if it means becoming something akin to the very thing she opposes.


MauraOne of my favorite unreliable narrators is the unnamed protagonist in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, portrayed by Edward Norton in the movie.  I’ve seen the movie multiple times over the years, and I’m always noticing something new about the narrators perspective and his relationship with Tyler. The Narrator is wry, believable, and relate-able, yet who is he and what mental illness is he suffering from? A mid life crisis? Delusions brought on my insomnia? Oh, I may have to watch again…


Which cold-hearted characters are your favorites?  Let us know in the comments below!

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