Musing Mondays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB that asks you to muse about one of several “bookish” questions… or, you can just ramble on about anything you like that pertains to books! You can join in by clicking the graphic above. Go ahead–it’s fun!
Here’s my Musing Monday ramble for this week:
Is it necessary to LIKE the characters in a book in order to like the book itself?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve recently read two novels featuring very unlikeable characters—yet, both books have been memorable and both are books that I’d recommend to others.
Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison is a psychological thriller that is often compared to Gone Girl. The two main characters are not folks that I’d ever choose to call friends—especially the main male character, who possesses one of the most despicable personalities I’ve read in a long time. However, I found the plot of the book intriguing, I liked the technique of using alternating viewpoints, I was anxious to find out how the book ended, and I still find myself thinking about the plot from time to time.
I just finished listening to the audiobook version of the novel The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. Again, none of the characters were particularly likeable—especially when certain things come to light at the end of the story. In fact, the main character had such an intense rage simmering under the surface throughout the book that I almost found it overwhelming at times. Yet, again, I’m still thinking about the story and the characters from this novel days after I finished it.
So—how is it that I can have such intense feelings of dislike towards most of the characters in these two books, and, at the same time, say that I enjoyed these novels? Why on earth would I want to spend valuable reading time with characters who I wouldn’t want to spend time with in real life?
In the end, I think it all comes down to the skill of the author. If a writer can create a whole book around an unlikeable character and still manage to keep me reading—then I greatly admire that kind of writing. It’s easy to hold a reader’s interest around a loveable or sympathetic character. It takes much more talent to keep me reading a book containing a main character who is off-putting. And as a reader, I simply have to admire the authors who are able to pull that off.
Here’s another way to look at it: There are plenty of biographies and history books written about people and events who aren’t particularly pleasant–yet people continue to buy and read those books. We don’t have to approve of a person or event to want to learn more about it. As an example, I’ve been fascinated by former US president Lyndon Johnson for years. I’ve read many books about him—including the fabulous four-volume (so far!) biography series by Robert Caro. I don’t admire LBJ—there are many parts of his story and his actions that leave me shaking my head at his sheer arrogance—but I am endlessly intrigued by his very complicated personality and the effect his presidency had on future generations. Do I admire him? No. Do I want to continue to read and learn more about him? Absolutely!
So—what do you think? Do you continue to read a book when you realize it contains unlikeable characters? What keeps you reading such a book? Or, are you a reader who prefers to focus your reading time on likeable, sympathetic characters? Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here—please share your thoughts!