The lone wolves of fiction

I can be a bit of a loner. So I was immediately drawn to this story on The Guardian about the top 10 loners in fiction. I only recognise a few of them, a constant reminder of how few books I've ever read in the greater scheme of literature - I'm resigned that I'll die with a huge unfinished backlist of books that I meant to get to someday.

So in that spirit, I've decided to make my own list of literary loners. The Guardian story says of loners that they can be "dangerous, caring, happy, desperate or none of these things", so in other words, they're human, which fits in with my criteria too! 

But in all seriousness, I think literary loners are not always so by choice. Sometimes loneliness can be imposed upon them. At other times, it's part of their nature. It's interesting going to parties or being around large crowds in a room, because you can always pick out the loners. They're the ones with a drink, standing conspicuously in the corner, either unable to or unwilling to mingle.

Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Nick is the biggest literary loner I can think of, perhaps a subconscious reflection of Fitzgerald himself. He goes to all these parties, and speaks to all these people, and sort-of befriends Gatsby (a fellow loner, but I thought he was too obvious), yet he stands apart from them all. It's what actually makes him such a great narrator for the novel, because he's not in the belly of the beast, so to speak. It allows him to be flawed, yet sympathetic, and I'll always maintain that he was a little in love with Gatsby.

Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

He killed a man, so that fits him neatly into the category of "dangerous", but he's also the epitome of still waters run deep. He's the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer and shoot the breeze with, mainly because he wouldn't say much, but what he said would be far more insightful than most people. Despite his loner qualities, Tom is steadfast, family orientated and self-sacrificing, proving that being quiet and private aren't necessarily bad things.

Toru Okada in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

While Toru spends most of the novel hunting for a missing cat, what this book really highlights is how lonely one can get even while living in a city filled with people just one thin wall away. Toru is the embodiment of a loner. He's unemployed, so doesn't have the thrill of water cooler chit-chat to fill his days. He barely sees his wife as she works full-time, and now even the cat's gone AWOL. Can't get lonelier than that!

Can you think of some literary loners?

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