Books featuring quirky characters

Sunday, February 18, 2024 Permalink

I love me some quirk. I mean… in general (*shrugs*) but also when reading. In fact it feels like it’s become more of a thing to offer up lead characters who are eccentric, have interesting foibles or idiosyncrasies or (even more specifically) fall on the autism spectrum.

Whether it’s a physical or mental disorder or illness, something that’s the result of trauma, or ‘just’ a personality quirk, I love that increasingly authors are giving us lead characters who aren’t slick or perfect high-achievers whom we are supposed to aspire to emulate.

Of course a bit of quirk is different to narrators or lead characters who are unreliable, but more on them another time. Instead I’m sharing with you some of my favourite quirky characters from recent years. (Links to my reviews in the title.)

Addition by Toni Jordan, published in 2008 which I’ve not reviewed on this site (as my reading pre-dated the site by a year) but was one of the first books I remember really loving thanks to its characters and Jordan’s portrayal of Grace, a woman with obsessive compulsive order who counts absolutely everything and is obsessed with Nikola Tesla.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood features the stand-offish middle-aged Susan Green who believes work would be bearable if it wasn’t for colleagues. Here she’s confronted by several life-changing moments – the death of her mother and the surprising possibility of becoming one herself.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman was very well received when released in 2017. Eleanor knows she’s not socially savvy or as emotionally evolved as she should be but still believes everyone else is the problem. She decides however she cannot keep living life in the way she has.


Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey isn’t about a central character called Elizabeth, but rather 82 year old Maud who has dementia, whose past and present is colliding, and who is sure her friend Elizabeth is missing.

Everything is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray features Amy, an artist who had her heart broken and dreams thwarted and, in response, collects treasures or keepsakes. Many, many, many of them.

Freckles by Cecilia Ahern is about Allegra a details-obsessed, stickler-for-the-rules parking inspector who sets out to meet five inspirational people after being told ‘we’ are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.


Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron introduces us to 65 year old widowed Franny, who I describe as a quintessential crotchety old woman, who’s withdrawn to live a life of decadent seclusion, until new neighbours upend that life.

Lenny Marks Gets Away With Murder by Kerryn Mayne features a woman doggedly set in her routines and lacking in social skills. After promising her foster mother to make an effort to ‘get a life’ Lenny moves outside of her comfort zone but accidentally kidnaps a dog and finds herself remembering more of her tragic past than she’d like.

Love Objects by Emily Maguire is centred around 45 year old Nic, a pragmatic and prickly hoarder close only to her niece Lena, who knows nothing of Nic’s habits and whose reaction to her aunt’s lifestyle I found both interesting and disappointing.


The Morbids by Eva Ramsay features Caitlin who – since a car accident – is convinced she’s going to die. Keen to overcome this she joins a support group for those with death-related anxiety, the Morbids.

The Other Side of Beautiful by Kim Lock introduces Mercy Blain whose house has just burnt down so decides to take to the road. Surprising given Mercy was agoraphobic and hadn’t left her house for two years, thanks to things in her life going very badly.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is a well-known and well-received novel (with two sequels) featuring autistic and awkward but likeable genetics professor Don Tillman who (here) embarks on a project to find a wife.

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris introduces us to Grace, a woman who’s isolated herself and whose life revolves around her lover of 8 years who she idolises. She spends her life waiting – for him to call… and for him to leave his wife.

A shout-out as well to almost anything by Fredrik Backman, author of Britt-Marie Was Here and A Man Named Ove and many more. Another shout-out and I might add it later, to All The Words We Know by Bruce Nash, which is coming out later this month – also featuring a woman with dementia who is delightful, though it’s her sometimes-confused narration (thanks to Nash) that’s the star of this book!

Note that I’ve not included anything  featuring child narrators as I’m planning a separate post featuring books where the author has really nailed that innocent yet knowing voice kids often bring to storytelling.

What have I missed? What are some other books featuring quirky characters?

  • Sue from Women Living Well After 50
    February 18, 2024

    Hi Deb I love quirky characters! I’ve read The Rosie Project and Eleanor Oliphant which I loved. I will certainly be following up on the others you have recommended. I’m sure Elizabeth is Missing might pull at the heart strings though. Thanks for your reviews and it is lovely that you have joined us for What’s On Your Bookshelf? x

    • Debbish
      February 19, 2024

      Elizabeth is Missing is a little sad, but funny. (As is an Australian book coming out shortly called All The Words We Know!)

  • Daenel Vaughn-Tucker
    February 18, 2024

    Ohhhh, I love a quirky character {in my books and in real life}. They just make life so much more interesting, ya know? And, gosh, is it easier to identify with someone who has a bendy personality rather than someone who’s just so perfect.

    The Cactus looks like a me book. Definitely adding to my ever-growing TBR Shelf.

    • Debbish
      February 19, 2024

      Oh yes, and there are a few here where the author doesn’t ‘change’ the character but instead allows them or others to adapt to their eccentricities.

  • artisticsharon
    February 19, 2024

    Thanks for the book summaries and reviews – I’ve been wanting to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Freckles sounds so interesting!!

    • Debbish
      February 19, 2024

      I’ve not read Cecilia Ahern before and think she writes a lot of Young Adult fiction so [Freckles] was a surprise, but a nice one.

  • Teresa Hardy
    February 19, 2024

    Great recommendations, a few I’ve read already.



  • Sue
    February 19, 2024

    Thanks for the tips. Have you read ‘Pigtopia’ by Kitty Fitzgerald? Maybe you’ll have that in the child narrators list.

    • Debbish
      February 19, 2024

      Hi Sue, and no I haven’t read Pigtopia, but will google it now!

  • Retirement Reflections
    February 21, 2024

    Hi, Deb – I greatly enjoyed your short review summaries here. From your above list, I have only (yet) read ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ and ‘A Man Called Ove.’ While the former book wasn’t for me, I absolutely loved the latter.
    As far as quirky characters go, I would also inlcude: Lessons in Chemistry, Remarkably Bright Creatures and most of the books by Elizabeth Strout (at least the ones that I’ve read so far). <3

    • Debbish
      February 21, 2024

      I’ve not read any Elizabeth Strout but have heard good things about her books. I must check them out.

  • Jo
    February 22, 2024

    I think I’m the only person in the world who didn’t “get” Eleanor … I tried, but … I did, however, enjoy Grace Atherton, Happy Hour and The Rosie Project. Thanks for joining us this month…

    • Debbish
      February 24, 2024

      You should read Lenny Marks and Addition as I think you’d enjoy them!

  • Debbie
    February 23, 2024

    Hi Deb, I really enjoyed reading your list of quirky characters and I must say I loved The Other Side of Beautiful with Mercy Bain – such a great character and story!

    • Debbish
      February 24, 2024

      Oh yes… I loved that one too. (Obviously!)

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