Sunday, 15 March 2015

You Can Hate The Character But Love The Book

I wanted to talk a little bit about what I see on book reviews all the time on Goodreads and it's something that I think is potentially making people miss out on reading books (through reading these reviews) or not enjoy reading a book (for potentially the wrong reasons). And that is this: You don't have to agree with a character to enjoy reading a book. Or to put it another way: just because you don't like the main character doesn't mean the book in question was bad.

And the thing is, I'm guilty of doing this as well. You know what happens - you read a book, identify with a character and then they start spouting opinions or showing character traits that you just don't like. Maybe we were championing for them or saw a little bit of ourselves in their personality, and all of a sudden our like and relatability for that character goes out the window.

The other day I was reading some reviews for a book I was potentially interested in and couldn't help but notice how almost all of the 1 or 2 star reviews mentioned that the main character had issues with her self-esteem. Many had commented that this was a problem and had obviously rated the book lower because of it. And it got me thinking about why? I see this a lot with books where a good character does something that upsets our moral compass and people write off the whole book because they can't relate or are so enraged that they are not the person we thought they should be.

I understand the need to have a connection with a character - but in order to be realistic they also need to have flaws, do morally questionable things or make mistakes and try and fix them. After all what is the point in reading about people who are perfect when none of us as readers are? (I'd like to point out that I am talking about flawed characters here and not bad writing or badly conceived characters.)

Thinking about this reminds me of when I read The Kite Runner for the first time and I was so enraged by the cowardice of the main character that I was convinced it was the worst book I'd ever read. After I'd calmed down a little I realised that the only reason I'd had such a massive (and angry) reaction for a book was because I was so invested in the story and was hoping it would turn out the way I wanted and not the way the author had written it.

Of course there will always be books that have terribly written characters, that are unbelievable or their actions don't make a lot of sense with the way the author has presented them. But, I think it's important to keep in mind that a character without flaws probably isn't a very good one.

I'd love to know what you think about this. Does your dislike for a flawed character in a good book ever stop you from enjoying the story?

1 comment

  1. This makes me think about the book "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess. I recently read the book and even though the main character, Alex, is a pretty terrible person - the book was excellent. Not every book is going to have likeable characters, and that is a creative decision that shouldn't diminish the perceived quality of the book. Now, if the character is undeveloped, one-note and lacks any sort of internal conflict then I can see how that would impact a reading experience. But I agree that if all that is wrong is that the character isn't someone you don't personally like - then you shouldn't let it influence the effect of the overall reading experience.


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