Novels About Guilt

These novels have characters who feel remorse over something they did, or guilty over something that was done to them.

Novels with Guilt

Bone | Fae Myenne Ng

Lila, Ona, and Nina are sisters. Leila has recently married her long time boyfriend. Ona has just commited suicide, jumping off the thirteenth floor of a building. The narrative continues in reverse order before coming back to the suicide and then the days after it. The Leong family are Chinese immigrants; the father, Leon, came to America when he was fifteen. There is some conflict because the daughters are more Americanized than the parents.

The Idiot | Fyodor Dostoevsky

Mishkin has just been treated for epilepsy and idiocy. He is going to meet Madame Yepanching, who he believes is a relative. Rogozhin is traveling to collect his inheritance of more than two million rubles after the death of his father. The central character, Mishkin, is self-sacrificing and forgiving and others take advantage of him.

Read “The Idiot”

The Dew Breaker | Edwidge Danticat

The narrative consists of nine related stories about either Haitian-Americans in New York, or in Haiti under dictatorial rule. It begins with Ka, who is traveling to Florida with her father to sell a sculpture to a collector. Her father derails the plans and reveals a secret. Next, a man in New York is reunited with his wife after seven years apart.

A Separate Peace | John Knowles

Gene Forrester recalls his school days with his roommate Phineas. Gene is an intellectual and good athlete; Phineas is charismatic and the best athlete at school. Phineas wanted to form a secret society with the initiation being to jump from a tree into a river. During one visit to the tree, an accident occurs that Gene feels guilty over.

The Return of the Native | Thomas Hardy

Venn is a lowly mineral peddler who wanted to marry Thomasin Yeobright, a woman who was supposed to marry Damon Wildeve, but it fell through on a technicality. Wildeve is preoccupied with Eustacia, an exotic beauty. She is looking for a way out of their small Wessex town. When she hears that Clym Yeobright, a prosperous Paris diamond merchant, is returning to town, she turns her attention to him.

Read “The Return of the Native”

Atlas Shrugged | Ayn Rand

New York is in a state of decay and economic collapse. Dagny Taggart tries to keep Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad, running despite government rules that make it difficult for businesses. She has some capitalist allies fighting with her, but one by one, they have been disappearing. It seems to be related to a person named John Galt.

Too Late the Phalarope | Alan Paton

Pieter was a soldier and then a high-ranking police officer. He sometimes experiences what are described as “black” moods from an internal struggle. Pieter arrests Stephanie, a black woman, and finds her strangely appealing. The Immorality Act forbids sexual relationships between the races (this is set in South Africa). He feels guilty and doesn’t know who to talk to or what to do about it.

Snow Falling on Cedars | David Guterson

When the body of a fisherman is found, Kabuo, a Japanese man, is charged with the murder. It is 1954 in Puget Sound, Washington, and there is still suspicion of Japanese people from World War II. Witnesses are called to testify, and we are given insight into their lives. The trial is covered by a reporter, Ishmael, who loved a Japanese girl long ago, now the wife of the accused.

Sula | Toni Morrison

Sula and Nel are friends who grow up in “The Bottom”, the African-American part of a town in Ohio. Sula is wild and feels unloved and guilty over an accident in her childhood. Nel was raised in a strict household, and finds some excitement in Sula’s company. There is a lot of drama in the lives of Sula, her mother, and her grandmother.


Find popular novels to read online, or find a novel to add to your to-buy list.

Hope you found your next book to read among these suggested novels.