Weekly Tea Discussion: Likeability

Books_Cups_Grass_Tea_CupCharacters are such a vital part of any book.

Why am I telling you something you already know?

Because while they are so important, characters can also affect how you feel about the book in its entirety. If you are overcome by the negative characteristics, you might forget about everything else that’s good about the novel and just focusing on the bad. So that is why this week, I will be talking about likeability of characters.

As book lovers, we are bound to have a personal connection with the characters, which of course is natural. When we read, we’re entering into another world, trying to get a sense of our surroundings, develop a deep connection. So in order for us to like this new world, we have to like the people who are in it, i.e. the characters. It’s only expected. But is having that deep connection with the book characters hindering our own experience with this new world? Are we allowing characters’ particular personalities judge a book unfairly?

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Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) from Gone Girl (2014) Credit: 20th Century Fox

Let’s take Gone Girl  by Gillian Flynn, for example. The book quickly became popular and was critically universally praised. But by readers? Although the book was greatly enjoyed by most, there were who begged to differ. Some readers were saying:
How can anyone like this book? The characters are so unlikable?
But you see, that is exactly the reason why I love this book.
Of all my reading life, I always read books with likable characters. I didn’t purposefully do this, it just sort of happened. And if I liked most of the characters, the book automatically went on my favorite list. However, I came across this book and everything changed. I loved this book not only for the plot twist and the unique writing narrative. Because the book portrayed characters that I was not rooting for in any way. This was the first time where I was actually rooting for characters to get their “just deserts”. I never read a book like that and because of that, I appreciate the book more. I was able to look beyond the characters and take a closer look at what Flynn did with this book in its entirety.

Another example, Emma Woodhouse. A lot of people, including some of my

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Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) BBC 2009

closest friends, say that out of all the Jane Austen novels, Emma is their least favorite. Not because of the plot, not because of the writing style, because of Emma as the main character. Most people just don’t like her personality. And I’m not disagreeing with them; I don’t like her personality either. But Austen’s humor, wit, and ability to keep hold of your attention while telling a story overcomes her main character’s horrendous personality. Austen was trying to make fun of this type of woman. The best we can do is laugh along with her.

Although the characters are the story, that doesn’t mean we should forget about the other elements that can make the book enjoyable such as the use of narrative and the author’s writing style. I didn’t like the characters in The Girl51oYEfb+0WL._SL300 On The Train but that’s not why I like the book. I found it too predictable and read just like any basic mystery novel. See? My problem wasn’t with the characters but with the plot. Same goes for We Were Liars. The characters, horrible as they are, were the least of my worries. It was the writing style that did it for me.

So I’m going to try to change my reading habits. It would be great that I loved every book character I came across. But like our parents use to say to us when we were kids, “Not everyone is going to like you.” So we’re not going to like every book character. I just think it’s time we don’t let affect our judgement on the book as a whole.

And we wouldn’t want to be,an unlikable character, would we?

Does likable characters affect your opinion of a book? Have you read a book recently where you disliked the book based on the likability of the characters?

8 thoughts on “Weekly Tea Discussion: Likeability

  1. I read Alexander McCall’s version of Emma a few weeks back. It was modernized and holy crap, Emma was such a twit! I didn’t dislike the book but yes the character made it a trial. Then it makes me think of the time when unlikable main characters really made me hate the well written book by one of my favorite authors. Poor Amy Tan.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love it when characters aren’t likeable. It gives them personality.I find it so unrealistic to continuously read about all these great characters that everyone loves. Is that just me? It also gives me the possibility to explore some darker sides to myself. No, I don’t think I would’ve taken it to the level of Amy in Gone Girl, but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand why she did what she did and read about some of the crazy things she did.
    I actually had a short exchange with someone on interest and was (am) gonna write a blog post about it as well, though more in relation to how people usually only seem to refer to female characters when they find someone unlikeable. At least, so far, I’ve not hear of people finding male characters unlikeable, or rubbing them the wrong way.

    I’m not sure I made up lot of sense up there, but just YES to everything you said 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very true! And I loved Gone Girl too. The way the characters were portrayed, they seemed very… complete, somehow. They were horrendously flawed, but had their own qualities which made me admire them too. If we simply decide to dislike a book because we dislike the characters, we are ignoring elements like plot and writing style, which are essential too. I totally agree.

    Liked by 1 person

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