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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Is it possible to like a book when you can't stand any of the characters?

Olive Kitteridge. Gone Girl. A Girl on the Train. Defending Jacob. What do these four books have in common? They all are full of characters difficult or impossible to like. And they are all book club selections.  Even though the books are entertaining and have interesting literary devices I have a hard time describing them as books that I "like" and I always qualify my recommendations of these books as ones with unlikable characters.

Defending Jacob by William Landay is a legal thriller and a story about a family in crisis. Jacob, the son, is accused of murdering a classmate. Andy, the father, is a district attorney who finds himself in the position of having to defend his son in court against his old colleagues. Jacob is grouchy, introverted teenager who just doesn't seem to understand how much trouble he is in. Andy, who comes from violent descendents, seems to be a ticking time-bomb ready to ignite at any minute. He blindly defends his son while simultaneously ignoring the needs of his wife. Many of his actions seemed highly infuriating, especially since as a lawyer he should have known better, The plot has several twists and turns that keep it interesting yet, by the end of the book, I still didn't like either Andy or Jacob. Would I characterize this book as one I like? Not sure.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins carries the story from three women's perspective: Rachel, Anna, and Megan. Their stories intertwine and coalesce by the end of the book but in the meantime we get to know our characters a bit and what we learn isn't pretty. Rachel is an alcoholic obsessed with her x-husband and past life. Anna is an adulterer and quite jealous and insecure. Megan is a philanderer and manipulator. All of the women make bad decisions over and over yet I found myself cheering them on and hoping they would triumph. For what its worth, I didn't like any of the men in the book either. Final decision? Yes, I liked the book but I sure didn't like the characters.

My book club had a fairly heated discussion about this topic when we discussed Gone Girl. Several of the members just couldn't get past the detestable characters to say they liked the book. My husband helped me see the book as a good, entertaining story. The disgusting characters were just part of the entertainment.

What do think? Can you describe a book as one you"like" even if you can't stand all the characters?

9 comments:

  1. Oh I too hated the characters of Andy and Jacob! I like the ending, but yes, very infuriating! I also found him incredibly sexist haha, so that didn't help at all.
    I couldn't relate to the characters on The Girl on the Train and couldn't find myself rooting for them either.

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    1. I think the problem with books with unlikable characters is hard to cheer for them. I want characters in books as friends!

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  2. Absolutely! I've read Defending Jacob and Gone Girl and enjoyed both of them. I just posted a review of Burning Sky (http://annettesbookspot.blogspot.com/2015/03/book-review-breaking-sky-by-cori.html) where I discussed this because I really didn't like the main character. Great thoughts.

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    1. Glad to know that I am not the only to grapple with this issue as I read.

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  3. I liked Defending Jacob, but hated Gone Girl. It really didn't have much to do with the characters; I think it was more the plot and the author's style. I detested the other book I read by Gillian Flynn, so I need to stay away from any other books by her. However, I have also disliked books where most of the characters were likable. :)

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    1. I was so irritated by the characters in Gone Girl but enjoyed the plot twists. Admit it, just when you thought you knew what was happening, Wham-o---surprise!

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  4. I agree on Defending Jacob. I liked the book because it disturbed me a bit but I enjoyed it. The characters were all terrible people. I don't want to say too much here, but that ending blew my mind! I thought it was a great twist.
    Happy reading!

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    1. Yes, the ending really allowed us to discuss "what if?"

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  5. Great discussion, Anne! I struggle with this, too. I was curious what you thought of Defending Jacob. Besides the lack of likable characters, I found it soooo depressing! Not an ounce of hope in it. Pretty much the same with Gone Girl! Actually, I couldn't understand why so many people LOVED Gone Girl for these reasons. My husband and I liked it but didn't love it. I liked Flynn's Sharp Objects better because as messed up as the main character is, she is still a good person at heart - like you said, I need someone to root for!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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