Favourite Acts of Revenge – by Julie Corbin

Julie Corbin shares her top (fictional!) revenge tales...

Posted on July 28, 2016 in Best of, Guest Author

Is there any one of us who hasn’t seethed, stewed or even burned with ideas of revenge? That person in the office who always hangs on the boss’s ear because he’s willing to sneak. The neighbour who persists in parking in your space. The best friend who sleeps with your husband. We hope for a karmic justice but if the forces of the universe don’t come to our aid, we can always take matters into our own hands and plot our own revenge. But should we?

If we look to fiction we see a world where all things are possible, and from The Count of Monte Cristo to Django Unchained, fictional characters have been exacting their revenge. As readers we have lived vicariously, cheered them on and then been afraid for the outcome.

My own personal favourites…


  1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

There is no human vice or virtue that William Shakespeare failed to shed his perceptive light upon and the revenge-theme occurs in all of his tragedies, not least Hamlet.

Hamlet is incited to act by his father’s ghost who appears to him one night to tell him of his murder, urging Hamlet to avenge his death.

Hamlet: “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift

As meditation or the thoughts of love,

May sweep to my revenge.”

An eye for an eye – what could possibly be wrong with that?

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Relationships, huh? Most of us will sulk or shout when we feel the balance of power is tipping away from us. Sometimes it’s those irritating slights that cut deeper as the years go by. Sometimes it’s a whopping betrayal. Sometimes it’s both. Nick is not behaving in the way that Amy wants him too. She has exacting standards and he falls short – well short. She concocts an elaborate, meticulously thought-through revenge that is breathtaking and brilliant and just a little bit bonkers. I loved this book. The energy, plotting and depth of the characterisation set Flynn apart as a writer of great talent.

  1. The Lives and Loves of a She Devil by Fay Weldon.

I have fond memories of watching this BBC production in the mid-80s. A faithful adaption of Weldon’s novel, it introduced me to her work and to the character Ruth Patchett. Ruth is an ordinary woman living an ordinary life. When she discovers that her husband is having an affair with the romantic novelist Mary Fisher, Ruth is consumed with anger and wreaks havoc. Within weeks she has burnt down the family home and embarked on a course of extreme revenge. Hell hath no fury…

  1. Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes), 2014

Wild Tales is set in Argentina and directed by Damián Szifron. It’s made up of six stories, each one standing alone, but the revenge-theme links them all. Twisted, humorous and at times extremely dark, the stories are a roller-coaster ride of human behaviour that ups the ante at every turn. My particular favourite is ‘El Mas Fuerte’ (The Strongest). This is a tale of road-rage, a power struggle between two men who will not give in. Pride won’t allow it. And boy, do they pay the price.

  1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Dickens characters are richly drawn and often fatally flawed. Miss Havisham is a wealthy old lady for whom normal life stopped the moment she was jilted at the altar. Her heart is broken but she never allows it to mend, preferring instead to stop the clock, to steep herself in the decay of a day that never comes: dying flowers, toppled candles, dust-covered place settings on a table obscured by cobwebs. She schemes. She plots. She adopts the orphan Estella with revenge in mind.

  1. True Grit by Charles Portis

Mattie Ross is a 14-year-old girl in the brutal world of the American west, and she is on a mission. A thief named Tom Chaney killed her father and she is hell bent on seeking revenge. She elicits the help of a drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, a man of ‘true grit,’ to track Chaney into Indian territory.

I remember as a young teenager watching the film version with my own dad next to me on the sofa (John Wayne played Rooster) and feeling inspired by Mattie’s stubborn courage.

  1. Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

Hannibal Lecter is surely one of fiction’s most horrific and beguiling characters. Not a straightforward villain, more of a dark anti-hero, in Hannibal Rising we witness his murderous beginnings. A boy in the snow, mute, with a chain around his neck, he has endured the destruction of his family, and in particular, the death of his beloved sister Mischa. Tortured by this, he plots revenge on those responsible.

  1. Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie was the first Stephen King novel I read and it set me up as a long-time fan of his work. The novel tells the tale of Carrie White, a 16-year-old girl with an unstable mother who physically and emotionally abuses her. To make matters worse, Carrie is bullied in high school and ostracised by her classmates. King cleverly makes us empathise with Carrie who is both vulnerable and brave so that by the time she uses telekinesis to take revenge on her tormentors, we are completely on her side.

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I struggled to get into this novel but when I did it was worth it.

Mikael Blomkvist, a recently discredited journalist, is hired by a rich businessman to solve the forty-year mystery of his niece’s disappearance. Blomkvist teams up with Lisbeth Salander, a tattooed computer hacker. Salander is a damaged character, victim of an abusive childhood, but now, as a savvy, intelligent, focussed young woman she is no longer powerless. Her act of revenge against the man who abused her is disturbing but oh so satisfying for the reader.

  1. Doctor Foster, BBC Drama

Broadcast in 2015, this six-part relationship drama centres on Dr Gemma Foster, a well-liked, attractive, perfect-life GP who discovers that her husband is having an affair. She gives him several chances to admit to what he’s doing but he doesn’t take those chances. What will she do?

This series makes for gripping television; the dinner party scene alone is both brilliant and excruciating.


Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth, and its message is clear – much as we might fantasise about getting our own back, most of us should act with caution or simply let it go. Because as Confucius said, ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge be prepared to dig two graves.’


Julie Corbin’s latest novel WHAT GOES AROUND is out now in ebook.

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