Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.
This week’s theme is unlikeable protagonists. I personally love a brilliant villain, but it can be difficult to have a good unlikeable protagonist. You have to take someone with serious flaws and make readers see some light in them. It’s difficult to do, and sometimes a ‘good’ unlikeable protagonist just becomes someone that you can’t stand, and the balance between flaws and strengths is lost. Here’s a list of examples where I think it’s been done right.
1. Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff
I couldn’t just pick one of Naondel’s many narrators, but something that I think Turtschaninoff did really well was craft really complex characters. All of the women that narrate this novel are out to save their own skin, and largely remain so for most of the novel. They are selfish and ambitious out of need and form few friendships and bonds between them. However, you come to love them as characters because their lives and thoughts are so well presented and you see their distinct personalities coming together when they realise they should not be enemies any longer.
2. Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas
I chose the protagonist of the early books in the Throne of Glass series over that of the later books because Celaena was everything that I enjoy in an unlikeable protagonist. I loved how she toed the line between hero and villain. She was dangerous, a threat to everyone and not afraid to show it, proud of her strength and skill, scheming, and powerful, but at the same time we saw gentler sides to her. We saw her both as an assassin and as a friend, lover, and protector. While some people simply love Celaena, I actually often toe the line between love and hate in these books, especially in the later books. There are moments where I love her sassiness, her wit, and the double sides to her character, and there are other moments where I feel tired of it, and want her to just pick the a side, good or bad. I guess that’s what makes her such an intriguing protagonist.
3. Eva from We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
Eva is far from a likeable character because of her crude honesty. She is completely open about not having wanted her first child Kevin, about her dislike for him as a child and uneasiness around him, about her resenting many of the choices that she allowed herself to be talked into by her husband. We learn that her son Kevin killed seven students and two adults in a massacre at his school, and we see Eva visiting him in prison and even preparing her house for his return, taking extra care to ensure he will be comfortable. Throughout the novel, I wasn’t ever quite sure about Eva, and I definitely felt uneasy reading this novel, but it was an unfamiliar feeling that I actually really enjoyed.
4. Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin
I always get weird looks for saying that Cersei is one of my favourite characters in this series, but she is just the epitome of a great villain. What I love about Cersei, and about the characterisation in this series generally, is that you always see the characters’ motives for their actions. Cersei is undeniably selfish and cruel, but you also know that she does the things she does to protect her family. I also think she’s a fascinating character in how scheming she is and how she is one of the most dangerous characters in the series without being a warrior in the typical sense.
5. Pip – Great Expectations from Charles Dickens
Reading this novel, I actually actively disliked Pip. I thought he was selfish and couldn’t see past his own desires, he was ungrateful to his uncle, and narrow-minded. I hated how he treated those who had helped him, and how quickly he seemed to forget all about him. However, it all fits into the story well, as it is about growing up and learning valuable lessons, which Pip definitely does. He learns that the things he had thought were wrong, and comes to realise the errors of his ways.
Do you like an unlikeable protagonist? How many flaws is too many flaws?