The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle offers readers one of fiction’s greatest antiheroes

Neil Blackmore's new book transports readers back to the morally ambiguous times of the 18th-century Grand Tours. 

Book of the Week: The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle
Book of the Week: The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle. Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

Walter White. Luther. Hannah Horvath. Modern pop culture has really embraced the concept of the flawed, morally ambiguous protagonist. Of course, the “anti-hero” is not a new phenomenon, and literature is ripe with charismatic central characters with a conspicuous lack of traditional "hero" qualities; morality, selflessness, courage. There's Becky Sharp; beautiful, intelligent, and unfailingly ruthless. Shakespeare's Macbeth. Dorian Gray and his murderous pursuit of eternal youth.

What is it that's so appealing about the anti-hero? They're flawed and complex in a way that feels real and relatable. They're not good, but not strictly bad. They exist on that nuanced spectrum of grey that encompasses all human life. It's deliciously fun to live vicariously through characters uninhibited by such small things as a moral compass. You don't need to like them. They're here to shake things up, to outrage, shock and entertain, to have you question the very foundation of your beliefs.

Neil Blackmore's larger-than-life creation, Horace Lavelle, certainly succeeds on this last front. From his first appearance in a tiny Italian church, shouting profanities in front of a shocked congregation of nuns, the handsome, magnetic stranger brings a nihilistic energy and an IDGAF attitude that thrills and unravels Benjamin Bowen's carefully held beliefs.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more