Hey guys, I’m back! Before I get to this week’s T5W, just a quick note: I haven’t spent very much time online these past 10 days, and it’s probably going to take me a couple of days to get caught up on everything and I’m sure there’s a lot I’m still going to miss, so if there’s anything you really want me to see for whatever reason – your reviews, tags, awards, comments I haven’t responded to, etc. – just leave a comment here with the link, I would really appreciate it. Thanks!!!
Now let’s get to it.
June 21st: Favorite “Unlikeable” Protagonists: People always tear down “unlikeable” protagonists. But tell us the ones you pulled for!
I love this topic. I have to admit, I find myself often defending books with ‘unlikable’ characters. To me, a good character isn’t someone I necessarily want to be friends with, but rather, someone who’s well-developed, intriguing, and multi-faceted. I love each and every one of these characters, even when I don’t particularly like them.
Ava Antipova (Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach). The first thing I tell people who are considering whether or not to read Dead Letters is that if you can’t deal with unlikable characters, you’re going to hate this book. Dead Letters features one of the most dysfunctional family dynamics I’ve ever seen, and this story is filled to the brim with characters who are compelling but at times rather loathsome. The protagonist Ava is no exception. She’s occasionally selfish, hypocritical, and holier than thou… and yet, she is one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen. For all her flaws, she has just as many virtues, and she’s three-dimensional enough that I found myself relating to quite a few aspects of her character, even when I didn’t really want to. For all fans of literary fiction who like their characters as aggravatingly realistic as possible, Dead Letters is a must read.
Ryan Cusack (The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney). Ugh, my heart hurts just thinking about this character. At a glance, Ryan is hard to love. He’s a teenage drug dealer who’s apathetic about his future; he cares deeply about his girlfriend Karine but doesn’t always know how to show it, and ends up making some stupid mistakes. But what Lisa McInerney does so expertly in this book is depict crime and poverty as a vicious, multi-generational cycle. It’s clear that Ryan is the way he is because of the way he was raised – and his father is the way he is because of the way he was raised, etc., and it’s heartbreaking because of how unavoidable it all seems. But there’s still so much good in this character who’s somehow managed to not be irrevocably damaged by everything he’s gone through, and for that reason, I managed to root for Ryan through all his many ups and downs.
Richard Papen (The Secret History by Donna Tartt). My knee-jerk reaction to thinking about Richard Papen is ‘ugh, Richard,’ but when I think about it – what would The Secret History have been without him? Richard anchors this story together in a way that’s absolutely essential to the narrative. He’s the outsider coming into this tight-knit group of friends, and his instant idolization of their group dynamic is what really allows the story to be set into motion. Richard’s mere presence in a lot of ways was a catalyst – his idolization in some ways being the justification they all needed to do the things they managed to do. Richard is self-centered, and willfully blind to horrible things that he had been in a position to prevent, but still he makes for a compelling protagonist. Surrounded by wealth and luxury, Richard himself comes from a poor background, and this class difference plays heavily into the way he interacts with this group of friends, and it’s difficult to fully condemn him when the temptation to do what they did is laid out so clearly for the reader.
Rachel (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins). I’m still somewhat conflicted about this book, but amid all my mixed feelings, there is one certainty: I love Rachel. I love her. Maybe I was predisposed to like her because we share a name, or maybe I just appreciated seeing such an openly flawed female character in such a mainstream novel – I’m not sure what exactly it was, but I was instantly drawn to Rachel. Make no mistake, she is frustrating as all hell. She’s an alcoholic who doesn’t care much about how her addiction affects the lives of those around her, she’s a complete busybody, she’s obsessed with her ex to a positively annoying degree… and yet, all of these things make for one of the most realistic protagonists I’ve ever encountered. At times I want to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, but at the same time, I found it so refreshing to read about a female character who’s been afforded the same depth as so many famous male protagonists.
Catherine (Tender by Belinda McKeon). Catherine is so easy to loathe… almost too easy, in fact. Because to loathe her is to distance yourself as a reader from her many complexities, and I for one would be hypocritical to not own up to the many ways that I related to this character. Her obsessiveness is almost frighteningly realistic – Tender is told in terse, frantic prose which deteriorates the further you read, as Catherine becomes more and more mentally unstable. She does some things that are morally reprehensible, and I want to condemn her for them, but I really can’t in good conscience. This is a book about all the ugly sides of human nature, and you have to be willing to own up to them, because Catherine is almost unnervingly real.
Who are some of your favorite unlikable protagonists? Comment and let me know! And again, comment if there’s anything I missed these past 10 days that you’d like me to see!