Alexander Theroux once declared revenge the “single most informing element of great world literature,” transcending even “love and war, with which themes . . . it has more than passing acquaintance.” Revenge, Theroux suggests, also drives authors to create. George Orwell, he points out, figured the “desire . . . to get your own back on grownups who snubbed you in childhood” to be among one’s first motivations for writing.
Theroux’s novels are close cousins to Jacobean revenge plays: No plan unfolds without dire consequences. Yet they’re also meditations on how anger consumes us, and they’re