You can choose your friends but – well, you know the rest. Here are our favourite dysfunctional families in fiction
Have you ever sat there during a family dinner, looked around the table at your blood relatives and thought how on earth did I come to be related to these people? Well, just take a minute and think again.
Because whether you’ve got competitive siblings or errant parents, chances are they won’t be half as bad as other people’s FFs. And by that we mean fictional families. There’s something deeply satisfying in reading stories about dysfunctional families (as long as they’re not yours, of course).
The misunderstandings, the silences, the arguments, the rivalries – the life-long feuds. We could say we love these family sagas so much because of the complicated interplay between the characters, but the truth is we just love to know that someone else’s family makes ours look a little less crazy.
Some of these stories are funny, some tragic, some both – all of them unique in their own way. There are missing parents, psychopathic offspring, deluded husbands and wives…all deliciously wrapped up in entertaining sagas that span difficult decades, hey, sometimes entire generations.
We love a bit of conflict to keep us turning those pages, and there’s nowt as tense as a book with a family battle at its core. After all, who wants to read about a group of perfect people who agree on everything and never raise their voices? Not us. We want the fights, the barbed quips, the poisonous looks and the brooding over breakfast. Crazy fictional families are compelling; they have a car crash quality that we just can’t help but be fascinated by. So don’t feel guilty. Read on – enjoy – and remember. It’s all make belief. Sort of.
Words by Eleni Kyriacou and Chloe Gipson
Eva and Franklin have a little boy called Kevin. So far, so normal. But Eva finds it impossible to bond with her son, who seems cold and shows no signs of affection (or any notion of what’s right or wrong). As Kevin gets older his behaviour becomes more sociopathic – and chilling.
Eventually, his behaviour spirals out of control. This powerful, tense book dials up the menace with each page, till we find out the true enormity of What Kevin Has Actually Done. Looking at what happens when the bond between children and parents is non-existent. Also an amazing film starring Tilda Swinton. Go read. Download and watch.
Read it if: you don’t get on with your mother.
Say hello to the Corleone family – the Mafia by any other name. Set in 1945 – 1955, this looks at one family’s mission to obliterate all their enemies – by any means necessary. There’s Don Vito, the father (Marlon Brando in the movie); ruthless, uncompromising, feared by all. And his sons Michael and Sonny. A doorstop of a book, but a very fast read, this is the tale of son Michael (a very young Al Pacino in the movie) and his attempts to escape the family ‘firm’.
Read it if: you have over-bearing parents.
‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ That’s the first line of this book and poor, doomed Anna K would probably agree. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she falls (hard) for the attractive, Count Alexis Kirillovich Vronsky (who wouldn’t fall for someone with a name like that?). Lies, jealousy, adultery, deception and tragedy ensue.
Read it if: you’ve witnessed a marriage fall-out close up.
How we love this book. When Alfred Lambert’s dementia worsens, his three adult chidlren (Gary, Chip and Denise) try to make it home for ‘one last Christmas’. A hilarious look at family relationships, that manages to be funny and sad at the same time. Possibly still Franzen’s best book (And worth reading just for the episode where Chip tries to steal a side of Norwegian salmon by stuffing it down his trousers).
Read it if: you’re always complaining about going home for Christmas.
The Game of Thrones series of books have to boast one of the most dysfunctional, messed-up families in fiction ever. The first book in Martins epic series leaves little to the imagination: a historical fantasy filled with violence, sexuality and moral ambiguity in a way the perfect introduction to Westeros infamous family, the Lanisters.
If you havent read the books, youve definitely seen the hit HBO television series and have a rough idea which incestuous couple Im referring to. Cersei (Wife to the King) will ensure that her sordid love affair with brother Jamie stays secret regardless of the cost, after all her sons claim to throne depends on it.
Read it if: you want to feel deeply, utterly ‘normal’.
Merricat and Constance are sisters – they live with elderly Uncle Julian in a big old house and avoid contact with everyone else. The rest of ther family is dead. Omigod. This is the most chlling, dysfunctional family ever – you know Something Very Bad happened here, but Jackson’s skill at writing delicious suspense means you won’t figure it out till the end.
Read it if: you have a weird, kinda intense relationship with your sister.
The first of a series of four novels, you have to be on your toes because there are so many characters in this sprawling family saga. But if you love the kind of books that have several plots going on at once and are set against the backdrop of war, this is for you. Compelling characters making awful choices, apart from the fact that they’re all rather posh, it feels a bit like real life to us.
Read it if: you come from a sprawling family and are always fighting to have your voice heard.
So you’ve got a kingdom, right. And you want to know how much each of your daughters love you. So you ask them to show their affection before you split up the treasures. Couldn’t possibly lead to any problems, right? Goneril, Regan and Cordelia are the epitome of good and evil, and this book is full of betrayal, sibling rivalries and violence. Crazy fictional families at their worst.
Read it if: you want to understand why parents can be rather stupid at times. (Probably best to give this one a miss if you have siblings you feel your mum or dad like a bit more than you.)
So…it’s not Jane Eyre who has a dysfunctional family, rather her boss, the brooding Mr Rochester. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read this and genuinely don’t know The Big Secret, skip this page. Buy if you have read it, then you’ll know that Mr R has a problem with a previous wife. A problem that’s he decided is best dealt with by locking her in the attic. (Yeah. we know.)
Read it if: your partner has an ex who just won’t go away.
Crazy fictional famailies a go-go. The problem of Carrie is a big one, but when you meet her mum you kinda get it. Margaret White is a domineering, abusive, fanatical Christian and possibly just a little bit insane. Sex is sinful and her daughter, Carrie, is the epitome of evil. Jeez – no wonder Carrie goes a little haywire. An excellent, graphic read with such a claustrophic mother-daughter relationship that if will have you trying to catch your breath.
Read it if: your mother exasperates you sometimes. We guarantee this will help put things in perspective.