It confuses me why books feature “unlikeable” narrators.
I’m sure they’re supposed to be frustrating. There’s usually a grand Changing To Be A Better Person metamorphosis. Nasty little caterpillar becomes a fluffy butterfly. You know the drill.
But I don’t understand the point of these characters.
Who likes mean people?! Who does?! Don’t we avoid them in real life? Who wants to settle down to dive into a fantastical world of make-believe…and get hit in the face with an unlikable character?
Everyone’s definition of “unlikable” is different of course.
But there are some basics, like:
– rude to people
– treats friends badly or takes them for granted
– mistreats animals, small children, or old people
– only looks out for themselves
– is dishonest
– speaks cruelly or just without thinking/caring about other’s feelings
Lump all of these into one character and you get: seriously unlikeable.
But woah! Wait a second! Characters need flaws, don’t they?
Absolutely. And here, let me name a few characters from books and movies (that I love) that fit these flaws. And THEN let me tell you how they made “unlikeable” not horrible.
Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean
Can anyone else better describe “dishonest”?! This dude lies even when he tells the truth (figure that out). So why do we like him: He’s secretly cares about other people. And he’s also funny and charming in a piratey are-you-going-to-give-me-rum way.
Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass
You peoples know I adore this series to the extreme. But, the main character, Celaena is an assassin…so not exactly do-gooder of the year. So why do we like her? She has an incredible weakness for puppies, cake, and good books. That’s adorable.
Wren from Reboot
Wren is pretty guilty of mistreating people. She, um…kills them! On command! (She’s a good little soldier.) She looks out for herself first and foremost…other people can go die. So why do we like her? Despite having zero emotions and breaking people’s necks, Wren secretly cares about her friends. (When they survive.)
See what the trick is here? Unlikeable characters must have adorable and likeable weaknesses.
It’s okay to have meanie characters in books! But we, the readers need some reason to root for them. Otherwise, why are we reading? Why do we even care?
I recently read Dead Dog in the Still of the Night by Archimede Fusillo. The main character, Primo, was (to be honest) awful.
In the garage at the back of the family home sits Primo’s father’s pride and joy; a red Fiat 500 Classic. Bambino. It waits amongst the dust motes for Primo’s father to recover, to come out of his paranoia and delusions. It waits and teases, like nothing else can – least of all the demands of everyday life, for things to return to normal.
And that isn’t going to happen any time soon…
You can read my full review here.
Primo fit my list of “unlikeable character features” to the dot. And you know what? He had ZERO features I could root for.
– He nearly ran over his girlfriend in his (basically stolen) car, because he was angry at her.
– He treated his mother like she was just around to serve him. (Make me meals, wash my dishes, etc.)
– He was rude and put out by his disabled father.
– He did dumb and mean things without thinking, and yeah he was sorry later. But how did he fix the mistakes? By whining he “wished he hadn’t done it” instead of…oh I don’t know. APOLOGISING, maybe?!
I didn’t root for this dude. I couldn’t!
As his life fell to the dogs (har, har, lame pun totally intended), I felt myself quietly thinking, “Serves you right.” There are plenty things that I can’t stand in books, and at the top of the list is angry boys scaring their girlfriends in attempts to get them back. That’s not okay!
If Primo had just done something for someone else… Or even had an undeniable soft spot for something. ANYTHING. But he didn’t. And it made me loathe the little book until I nearly threw it across the room.
I felt the same way about Side Effects May Vary, Vigilante Nights, and Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words.
Sure, the characters grew brains towards the end and maybe learnt they could be nice. But it took a long time and I was nearly lost with anguish before the end.
Obviously some people like these particular books! Which is definitely a reason you should try Dead Dog in the Still of the Night before you decide if Primo is as 100% unlikable as I reckon.