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.
Medea 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!)
Conversations 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)
Almost 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.
The 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)
The 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)
The 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?