top 5 wednesday: Favorite “Unlikable” Protagonists

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.

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

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.

30900136Ava 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.

29441096Ryan 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.

41cigepew5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_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.

220px-the_girl_on_the_train_28us_cover_201529Rachel (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.

tender-by-belinda-mckeonCatherine (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!

book review: Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

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Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

US pub date: February 21, 2017

★★★★☆

Dead Letters probably has the weirdest vibe of anything I’ve ever read. If I had to explain this book to someone, I don’t think it would be particularly helpful to summarize the plot, which makes it sound like a tense mystery instead of the literary character study that it is. I’m not really sure how I would explain it. There’s something about it that reminds me vaguely of a film noir, told with a linguistic prowess and dramatic flair that calls to mind the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. Somehow. Despite not really having anything in common with either of those things. Are you sufficiently confused? Yeah, me too. Let’s proceed.

Dead Letters commences when Ava Antipova receives a distressed email from her mother, informing her that her twin sister Zelda has died in a barn fire. Ava, who’s been living in Paris, flies home to her family’s vineyard outside Ithaca New York, suspecting that Zelda’s death may not be exactly what it seems. Soon she begins to receive a series of clues, hoping it will lead her to the truth of what happened that night in the fire.

In this era of fast-paced thrillers, let me stress: this does not belong in the mystery genre. This is a (at times slow-moving) character-driven novel. I didn’t like it any less for this fact, but I’m glad I’d heard that it wasn’t exactly a thriller before picking it up. Sometimes it’s difficult to adjust your expectations partway through a book.

Though you’ll have a hard time loving these characters, each makes a hell of an impression. Each member of the Antipova family is a volatile, selfish alcoholic. This is a book about horrible people being horrible to one another, and if you can’t bear to read about that, you won’t enjoy this book. But if you’re fascinated by dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics, as I am, there’s a good chance you’ll find this rewarding.

Our narrator, Ava, is one of the most well-crafted and three-dimensional characters I’ve read in anything recently, which is especially a feat considering the first-person narration (which I find at times complicates the reader’s ability to give the narrator an objective assessment?) But I thought that Ava was frustratingly, unnervingly real, for all her faults and virtues. Though at the beginning I was sure I wasn’t going to be able to see any of myself in her, there were certain details, like her fear of intimacy, that I found I related to so intensely it was a bit unnerving – the kind of thing where you’re reading and suddenly your breath catches and you feel deeply unsettled like you’re seeing yourself on the page. That’s just how present this story felt.

Caite Dolan-Leach’s writing is superb. Though it’s wordy to the point of pretension, you can always tell, with a book like this, which authors are anxiously flipping through thesauruses and which authors have had these words in their arsenal all along, and it’s pretty clear that Dolan-Leach belongs in the latter category. The (at times annoyingly overwrought) prose suits the story and the characters so seamlessly that it’s hard to imagine it being written any differently.

As for the ending – I won’t spoil anything, but I loved it. It was exactly the emotional payoff I was looking for after this long-winded adventure.

Though it takes a while to get going and relies a bit too heavily on elaborately baseless guesswork from the characters in order to connect certain plot points, Dead Letters was a clever and addicting read, and I thoroughly enjoyed this ride.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Random House, and Caite Dolan-Leach.

+ link to review on goodreads