Recommendations: Books with “unlikable” female characters

I adore books with difficult female characters – unlikability really works for me when it is done interestingly. I also think that judging a book as lacking because a character is unlikable is a boring critique. I am the first to admit that I need to find characters compelling but compellingness can come from characters being really awful. Weirdly enough, I am way more interested in difficult women than in difficult men – although thinking about it, maybe it’s not so weird after all.

153480Medea by Christa Wolf

One of my absolute favourite books of all time, I adore Wolf’s interpretation of Medea. While she is not as difficult as she is in the original myth, her problems are very much of her own making. She is unapologetically herself and frustratingly so. Wolf tells this story from different perspectives but anchors it in a pitch-perfect characterization of this infamous woman. (in case anybody is looking for more books to read during WiT-month, this one would be a brilliant one to add!)

36136386Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

I adore Frances – but she has been called unlikable by numerous reviewers. She is pretentious and incapable of talking about her feelings, she pursues a married man and lies to her best friend. But she is also clever and hurting and I just felt for her. I don’t think I have to tell anybody here how much I loved this book. (review)

35958295Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

This book gutted me, not least of all because Sarah, the main character, painfully reminded me of myself when I was in my early twenties. Told in two time lines, the Sarah from the present is an awful friend and a pretty terrible partner. But it is past-Sarah, the one who is in a toxic relationship that I related to, too much maybe. My review got a lot more personal than they usually are.

19161852The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

One of my all-time favourite books, one I practically adore every thing of, is made even more brilliant by how difficult Jemisin lets her main character, Essun, be. She is abrasive and single-minded, she feels no need to smooth her edges, and I loved her for it. The series is, amongst other things, a rumination on motherhood and growing up. Essun is horrible towards her daughter in a way that she thinks is necessary – and the inevitable conclusion to the trilogy broke my heart and made me a life long fan. (review)

37590570The Pisces by Melissa Broder

This book. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since reading an early copy last year. I adore everything about this – but most of all Lucy. She is pretty horrible a lot of the time but I also couldn’t help but root for her. It helps that she is super funny in her meanness and really lost underneath her swagger. I also loved reading Broder’s memoir So Sad Today (review) which gave me a whole different appreciation for Lucy, who definitely, at least in parts, is based on Broder herself. Another reason why dismissing the main character simply as “unlikable” doesn’t work here. (review)

36332136The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

I only recently finished this but I want to keep shouting from the rooftops how brilliant I thought this was. Told from different perspectives, I personally most adored Willa’s third person narration. Willa is prickly and awful and so very very brilliantly drawn. Her mask of the perfect suburban wife crumbles pretty quickly but her layers are revealed in a perfectly measured speed. (review)

What are your thoughts on unlikability? Do you have any recommendations for me?




25 thoughts on “Recommendations: Books with “unlikable” female characters

  1. I didn’t find Frances unlikeable at all! I’m not sure I can forgive Lucy for the dog, though…

    One of my favourite ‘unlikeable’ female characters is Moira in Susan Fletcher’s Oystercatchers; recommend if you haven’t read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I related to Frances way too much. My colleague read it after me and was like “duh of course you like it – you’re Frances”. I’m not sure I should be flattered. I mean, at least I never slept with a married man.
      The part about the dog was unbearable to read – but by then I was already so invested in Lucy, it only made my heart hurt even more.
      Thank you for the recommendation! I hadn’t heard of the book before but it sounds really interesting! I love stories about siblings.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a great recommendation list. I did not know The Fifth Season has an “unlikable” MC, this just adds more points to it and more reasons why it should be bumped up on my TBR. It’s also awesome that it’s one of your favorites!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Fifth Season is AMAZING! I am sure you’d love it. My heart broke for Essun but she definitely isn’t always likable. She is probably my favourite MC in fantasy, though.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Almost Love is one of those books I almost don’t feel comfortable recommending to people because it made me feel so very seen. It’s brilliant though!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which had an unlikeable female main character. I thought it was super interesting and really well done.

    And I really need to read some N. K. Jemisin, I’ve heard only good things about her books!


  4. What a great topic! Unlikeable female characters are my absolute favorite thing – and I have most of these on my TBR (and will be adding the ones I don’t to my TBR). I love the way Gillian Flynn writes female characters (they are all deeply unlikeable) and I also love Eva from We Need to Talk About Kevin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unlikable female characters are the best!
      I haven’t gotten on with the Flynn books I tried to read but I am still super intrigued by her writing. Maybe I should try again. Quite a few people have recommended We Need to Talk About Kevin – and I really wanted to read it but Shriver has been a bit awful lately, so I am not soo keen anymore.


  5. Books about difficult female characters are some of my favorite kinds of books! I often find that heroines labeled as unlikable I totally love and sympathize with. I would recommend Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, and The New Me by Halle Butler.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am SO intriguedby Moshfegh! I really should read her books already because I am sure I will love them. The other two sound great as well! Thank you for the recommendations!


  6. This is a great list! Almost all of these are books that I’ve loved or already have on my TBR- and I’m adding Medea now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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