55 Comments
Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. She actually remains stubbornly consistent throughout but the contrast with her shows character development in others - especially Rhett Butler. Plus the look at a culture who lost is fascinating.

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Never read it! But it's coming up very soon in my Pulitzer Project.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Oh my goodness - I never spell her name right - Scarlett. Somehow this book grabbed my attention when I was in high school. I've read it several times. Most recently for my podcast in two parts. I keep hoping that you'll pick it for one of the books here.

https://agoodstoryishardtofind.blogspot.com/2021/05/good-story-256-gone-with-wind-part-1.html

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Oh interesting — thanks for sharing!

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I generally liked Scarlett, except when she was being awful to Melanie!

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But let's face it, that was a LOT of the time! :-D

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I usually need at least one character I can root for – but I get really excited when a 'bad' character reveals more of themselves, fires up my empathy, and wins me over. That happened in The Mars House by Natasha Pulley. A character is clearly set up to be a villain, but slowly shows that she's got hidden depths AND she changes her behavior. YAY, growth! ;-)

My first thought when I read this question, though, was Edward Rochester. Is he unlikable? I usually don't think so. He's presented so sympathetically by Charlotte Brontë. But on one of my readings a few years ago, I was, like, 'What a jerk! He's so self pitying and whiny.' I found him very unlikable that time around. For some reason I have less of a problem with the attic situation and more with the 'dressing up as a fortune teller' thing. But ultimately, all is always forgive because he's EDWARD ROCHESTER.

I love all of Lucy Foley's thrillers — The Hunting Party, The Guest List, The Paris Apartment, The Midnight Feast — and they are filled with very unlikable characters, but the plots are so clever and the secrets revealed are so yummy, I don't care that a) someone is going to die and b) everyone else is awful. They're super fun from beginning to end.

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Ah, Rochester! Great example. He definitely starts smarmy but wins us over. And even though he's not perfect at the end, we at least *get* him.

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I just thought of St. John, too. He's definitely unlikable, but not in a way that inspires deep ire (at least for me). My reaction was more along the lines of "he is who he is and I'm really glad Jane recognized that."

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'God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you—not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.'

St. John is the WORST.

I loathe St. John, and I agree with you: He's mostly well-intentioned. Deeply unlikable, but mostly misguided, not evil.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

I usually DNF books with unlikable characters too but I just finished reading the Beautiful and the Damned starring two unlikable characters so that’s saying something!

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author

Never read that one!

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I agree, if I don’t like a character, I find it difficult to finish the book!

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But what if they grow and evolve?! Or they spiral into utter self-destruction. Watching the journey is always so interesting to me. :)

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

we need a character we can root for!

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I haven’t read a book with a truly lovable character in awhile!

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Coincidentally, I am currently reading The Sun Also Rises (again). I don't dislike Lady Brett. I think she is miserable, and her awful behavior is not making her feel better. I think she's stupid not to be with Jake. This old lady knows that, eventually, the sex isn't that important. On the other hand, Robert Cohn bugs the hell out of me, which was Hemingway's intention and it worked!

Other characters I never liked:

Alexander of the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day fame.

Emma Bovary

A man called Ove

Mr. Bridge (Mrs. Bridge should have dumped in a long time ago)

and my number one all time most detested character EVER..... Suzanne of Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas and by proxy, James Patterson. As a mother of three grown children, I feel safe saying that I don't think any of them will ever want to read my diary with graphic descriptions of the sex I had with their father. Seriously, James Patterson I will never forgive you for writing this book and my book club for making me read it.

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Ah, Emma! Of course. I just read that a couple months ago for the first time. And I've not heard of that James Patterson title, but I can now guarantee I won't be reading it! 😂

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I don't know that anyone ever really needs to read James Patterson!

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Jun 19Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

I think of well-written 'unlikable' characters as a direct rebuke to the modern sensibility which demands that a book ought not to seriously challenge the preexisting sensitivities of the reader. I tend to find it boring when a book's characters are all so thinly drawn that the protagonists flatter my priors and/or the antagonists are just caricatures of villainy. It calls to mind a comment the critic and novelist Gabriel Josipovici once made about Biblical scholarship: "[A] book will never draw me out of myself if I only accept as belonging to it what I have already decreed should be there."

To answer your question more directly: I did not particularly *like* Emma Bovary, but her unlikable character is integral to the novel. Same with Nathan Price in The Poisonwood Bible. (Contrast those with virtually every character in Anxious People, whose thoroughgoing unlikableness contravened anything good about the book for me.)

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Yes, Emma was great! Such a superbly written character. I think the difference between her and Nathan is that Emma is the primary protagonist whereas Nathan is drawn more clearly as a villain. Emma is more complex, which makes that story even more powerful, IMO.

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Jun 19Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Juniper in Yellowface. It worked though and I loved the book. Every single person in the School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan.

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author

Ah Juniper! Good one.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Fitzgerald’s Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise was such a pain!!!

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The only Fitzgerald I've read is Gatsby, which I've read a handful of times. He wrote rich snobby characters as well as anyone possibly could.

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Gatsby was such a great (albeit misunderstood) character, but I also think it’s because Nick Carraway was a great narrator

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Haha I personally liked him, but then I also liked Holden Caulfield. I guess maybe I think of him as the older version of Holden 😂

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An older Holden Caulfield is so true!

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

My thoughts are two despicable villians from Lonesome Dove.

Blue Duck, whose presence is noted throughout the novel. Cruel and vicious.

The other one, Roy Suggs, is terror incarnate. Suggs is in the novel for a relatively short time, his presence and the results of his sinister actions hold consequences for one of the main characters.

There are others, but those 2 stand out to me.

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author

Ahh sure. To my mind, villains are different than unlikable protagonists. It's kind of a different animal to write effective villains — would be another good discussion question. :)

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Jorg Ancrath from Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy is a classic case of a bad dude that you can't help but root for. It hurts to see his redemption arc falter at times, but it would have been inauthentic to have it all turn out rosy.

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author

Never read it! I'll have to check it out.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Bjartur, the main character from Independent People by Halldor Laxness, is incredibly frustrating, but you find yourself rooting for him nonetheless. More than anything else, he is stubborn, but he can also be cruel, stupid, and irresponsible throughout the story and many times his actions have dire consequences for other characters. This is one of my favorite books and his character, along with the Icelandic setting, is what drives the story along. I read it every few years and every time I wonder why I've waited that long!

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author

Ah, never read that one! It's been on my list for a looong time though. I'll have to prioritize it here soon.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

It really depends on what your personal tolerance is for "unlikable." I enjoy characters who are complex or criminals or out-and-out broken people. Not exactly the folks I'd invite over for Thanksgiving, but not without some redeeming qualities. For example: Holden Caulfield. He's obviously a bit of an ass, but he genuinely cares about his sister and he's not too far off from Tom Hanks' character in "Big" (if it were R-rated).

Patrick Bateman is definitely unlikable, but you can't look away from his rampage (and unfortunately, he is "likable" to a certain set of internet bros, so again: preferences). Anton Chigurh, Judge Holden - not protagonists but without their unlikability those are less-enthralling books.

For me it's a greater sin to be boring than unlikable.

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Great point about Holden. He's complex! That what makes the book great — he's not one-dimensional.

I just now thought of Dune, also. Paul gets more unlikable as the book goes on, which was definitely Herbert's intent. But as a character, he's just *perfect* for that narrative.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

I had Paul in my initial response and took him out for just that reason. His becoming unlikable is central to the story.

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Now that I know that (took me a while), I kinda want to read the second book. I've only read Dune...

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

He has quite the interesting story, for sure.

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I'm reading Emma for the first time, and Emma is, so far, pretty terrible. Is she going to turn this around?!

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Jun 19Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones/ A Song of Fire and Ice. A complete jerk/villain at the beginning of the series but by the end one of the most complex and admirable characters.

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author

Great one.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

This is an interesting question and timely, just last night we were discussing The Biz by Sara Novic. The book is set in a residential school for the deaf. The story is narrated alternately by the three main characters, the headmistress and two of the students. The mother of one of the students is just horrible. And yet she adds a needed dimension to the story and at the end I detected the beginnings of change in her. Sometimes a story needs an unlivable character to give it depth and reality.

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Haven't heard of that one! I'll have to check it out.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Casaubon (Middlemarch) and Augustus Melmotte (The Way We Live Now) came to mind!

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author

Ah yes, Casaubon is a good one. Not likable, but still sympathetic in a way.

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Jun 18Liked by Jeremy Anderberg

Prince Andrei was immediately who came to mind! Second, Phillipose from A Covenant of Water. I loved the book and so many of the people in it, so it was fine that he’s terrible. It seems odd to me though that Mariamma and Big Ammachi loved him and respected him so much. Even when he’s obviously better than he was, he’s still not great to Joppan. Anyway great question and discussion!

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Yes Phillipose was really interesting wasn't he! Just kinda lame, but I also *wanted* to sympathize with/for him even if I couldn't actually do it. Speaks to Verghese's writing ability, I think.

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