Top 10 Tuesdays: Unlikable Characters You Can’t Help but Love 

This week’s prompt was an interesting one for me, because I actually tend to love unlikable characters! It always surprises me to see people complain that they didn’t like characters in a book, especially in thrillers where we’re not really supposed to like them anyway. There are definitely characters that I personally find annoying or whose choices I really can’t understand at all, but for the most part I find unlikable characters so interesting. It might be partly because I have such a strong interest in psychology, so I love books that let me try to understand people, even if I don’t like them. Some of my favourite books are the ones that are told from the villain’s perspective, or which have a focus on an anti-hero rather than a straightforward hero. I think a big part of that is because I often find these characters are lot more complex and compelling. For example, one of my favourite TV series is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and my favourite character is Spike. He is arguably not very likable since he spends a good chunk of the series as an “evil’ villain, but his character is so much more layered than that, which was exactly what made him so compelling for me. There have been many books that I’ve read over the years with unlikable main characters who I couldn’t help loving, although I’m taking “love” more in the context of finding them fascinating/compelling, and not necessarily that they were just a misunderstood or sympathetic person.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) Nick and Amy Dunne from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – These two are the perfect example of what I was mentioning above. They are both horrible people, but they were absolutely fascinating to read about! I think one of the things I found most interesting about this book was that it wasn’t just one unlikable character — it was both of them!

2) Reshma Kapoor from Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia – This was actually the first character who came to mind when I saw this week’s prompt, even though it’s been about 7 years since I read this. Reshma was arrogant and annoying, but I couldn’t help understanding her and loving her because of all the academic pressure she put on herself.

3) Prudence Barnett from Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer – I chose this character for a very similar reason to Reshma. Prudence also puts a ton of pressure on herself academically, which results in her becoming a control freak (although in her case, I understand since group projects are always the worst!) and struggling to trust anyone else.

4) Joe Goldberg from You by Caroline Kepnes – Again, I definitely don’t condone anything Joe does but I couldn’t help noticing that he made some very good points about social media, and some of the hypocrisies in daily social interactions. I was definitely surprised by how often I had no choice but to acknowledge that he made a fair point.

5) Mia Covere from Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – I can’t really blame Mia for being unlikable considering everything she had been through, and especially the fact that she’s training to be an assassin so she kind of needs to have that hardened shell. However, I also thought she was a very interesting and complex character and I loved seeing her dynamics with the others.

6) Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – From an objective standpoint, I can see where Kaz is unlikable because he’s so devious and manipulative, but I couldn’t help loving him! He’s another character where it’s easy to see how he became the way he is due to the trauma he’s been through, but you can’t help rooting for him.

7) Evelyn Hugo from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I remember being a little surprised when I first read this book at just how unlikable Evelyn actually was, especially after seeing all the hype around the book, but I also think that’s a huge part of what made her so compelling! It was fascinating to see how resourceful she was at finding ways to get what she wants.

8) Briony Tallis from Atonement by Ian McEwan – This was not a character who immediately came to mind since I didn’t dislike her, despite the horrible consequences of her accusation. I understood what she did because of her age and limited understanding of relationships, and I think the fact that she’s struggled with the guilt for the rest of her life does mitigate shows that she realizes how wrong she was, which does buy a little sympathy!

9) Don Tillman from The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – Don is one of my all-time favourite characters and I absolutely love him, but I can see where he would be unlikable to others. He’s so highly logical and has a poor understanding of others, which often leads to him putting his foot in his mouth and saying things that upset people inadvertently. I found him so fun to read but I know a lot of readers found him unlikable and obnoxious.

10) Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I just had to include a character who seemed like one of the original unlikable protagonists! At the beginning of the book, Mary is spoiled, selfish and rude but she’s another character that you can’t really help feeling sympathy for given that she’s suddenly orphaned and sent to live with strangers who ignore her.


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