Beware the Ides of March! Yes, there’s a long, long history of back-stabbing and treachery in literature, with characters double-crossing each another – and even, sometimes, the reader. Here are ten books about betrayal.

10 Books About Betrayal - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Runner is one of the best-selling books about betrayal so far this century, and it’s been tearing book clubs apart since its initial publication in 2003. The heartbreaking story plays out against the backdrop of the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, and the rise of the Taliban regime. A young boy of wealth and privilege befriends the son of his father’s servant, only to betray him in his moment of greatest need. He spends his life seeking redemption for his self-interest and cowardice, a journey that takes him back to his homeland in search of the chance for a do-over. Read my full review of The Kite Runner here.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

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If you’re looking for award-winning books about betrayal, Atonement is right on the money. As the title suggests, it’s a story about the price we pay for betraying the ones we love, and the sacrifices we must make in seeking forgiveness. A poor man is sent to prison on the basis of a rich girl’s false allegation (I know, I know), and three lives are forever altered as a result. The fact that this all plays out in the first half of the 20th century, with WWII looming and booming, just ratchets up the drama. It’s probably the book for which Ian McEwan is best known, the shiny jewel in the crown of his oeuvre. Read my full review of Atonement here.

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie is all very Jesus-Judas coded, and if you know what happened between them, you know that this will be a book about betrayal. The titular Miss Jean Brodie – who is, indeed, in her prime when the novel begins, and doesn’t waste a chance to remind you of that fact – is a teacher at a school for girls. She has selected for herself six ten-year-old students, her special favourites, the “Brodie set”. Before long, one of them betrays her. Miss Brodie’s prime passes faster than she expects, and she finds herself on her death bed, trying to guilt them into revealing who dobbed on her to the school principal. Read my full review of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie here.

A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones - George R R Martin - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re looking for books about betrayal, A Game Of Thrones is like a bargain bonanza. You get SO MANY BETRAYALS for the price of one! There’s Queen Cersei, betraying her husband by sleeping with [redacted]. Then there’s Ned Stark, who’s betrayed by [redacted] who swore he’d be on his side when he revealed the truth about [redacted]’s parentage. And old Neddie is keeping a secret or two under his hat, too. Really, this is an epic book about betrayal at every turn, with some sex and dragons to keep things spicy. And if you love it, there are plenty more big books in the Song Of Ice and Fire fantasy series to keep it going. Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

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You’ve got to keep your wits about you when you’re reading The Silent Patient, because all the signs are there before the ultimate betrayal is revealed in the final pages. Theo is a forensic psychologist, obsessed with the case of the woman who murdered her husband then refused to say a word – in her own defence, or otherwise – for six years. He’s convinced that he’s the only one who can get through to her, and it’s a convenient excuse to avoid his wife at home, whom he believes is having an affair. Michaelides mixes Athenian tragedy and Agatha Christie mystery tropes in this best-selling mystery-thriller about betrayal. Read my full review of The Silent Patient here.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

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It takes a unique talent to write a book about betrayal in a marriage and make it funny – luckily, Nora Ephron had talent in spades. She’s better known for her romantic comedy films, of course, but she tried her hand at written fiction with Heartburn, a novel loosely based on her own messy marital relations. After discovering that her husband has been sleeping with a glamorous socialite, Rachel retreats to her home city of New York, and sets about overcoming her heartbreak through therapy, sexual fantasy, and food. Oh, and she’s heavily pregnant, too. It hardly sounds like a barrel of laughs, but Ephron can make anything funny. Read my full review of Heartburn here.

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

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Othello is Shakespeare’s classic play about betrayal, a rich story of duplicity and manipulation. It’s recreated for a modern audience in Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy, one of the best books about betrayal in Hogarth’s Shakespeare project. The story is transposed onto a 1970s schoolyard, and takes place over the course of a single day. A new student arrives seeking allies, and falls in love with the most popular girl in school, invoking the ire of another boy who vows to destroy the budding friendship. With racial politics, gender politics, and power struggles playing out on the page, it’s every bit as gripping and harrowing as Shakespeare’s original tragedy.

Sula by Toni Morrison

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Sula only has one titular character, but really it’s a story about two girls whose fates are woven together despite their differences. Nel and Sula are fiercely devoted to one another, a friendship that offers refuge from the ravages of bullies and abuse. It endures even when their paths diverge, Nel becoming ‘a pillar of the Black community’ and Sula a social pariah. An unspeakable betrayal will forever change their friendship, but can the bonds forged in childhood ever truly be broken?

Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller

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Notes On A Scandal depicts a torrid affair, i.e. a schoolteacher taking advantage of her position of power and sexually abusing a student. You might think that it’s a book about how she betrays the trust of the parents and the child in question, but the duplicity of this novel goes even deeper than that. The narrator, Barbara Covett, thinks she is doing the right thing by closely observing and recording every move that Sheba Hart makes, as the “affair” is discovered and her world falls apart – but really, Barbara is committing the ultimate betrayal, and Sheba is about to find out the truth. Your allegiances will shift in very uncomfortable ways. Read my full review of Notes On A Scandal here.

The Swans Of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

The Swans Of Fifth Avenue - Melanie Benjamin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One of the best books about betrayal is even better for being based – very closely! – on a real-life breach of trust. The Swans Of Fifth Avenue tells the story of how Truman Capote infiltrated, and then betrayed, the socialites of Manhattan’s upper-est echelons. After the riotous success of In Cold Blood, he found himself in need of a story, so he befriended the Ladies Who Lunch and then used their lives as fodder. Yes, that really happened, and Melanie Benjamin wrote a novel about it! It’s heavy on the sparkle and scandal, the gossip and glitz, and the schadenfreude is just too delicious for words. Read my full review of The Swans Of Fifth Avenue here.