However, I was wondering...are there any qualities in a character that make it impossible for you to root for them? Have you come across any characters so reprehensible that you've put the book down in dismay before you've reached the end? Admittedly, it takes time to show that the character has genuinely changed, yes...but is there ever a point at which you give up on them entirely?
There are a couple books that I've enjoyed where the protagonist starts out as dislikeable. One is a very popular 2010 debut, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (my review here), where the main character Sam Kingston is lacking in self-awareness and compassion at the beginning. The point of the whole book is to show how she gradually changes as she is forced to repeat the same day over and over and evaluate her actions and their consequences. As readers we can see her realizing her faults and trying to become a better person...and she does, but it takes a while. Yet Oliver manages to take Sam from a character I would not have hung out with to one I might have been friends with, and that's quite an accomplishment.
Another is The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty. Bindy is a Type A overachiever who believes she's a cut above the rest of the school, but throughout the novel she discovers that she may have been viewing herself and others through a very distorted lens. She is the kind of protagonist you want to shake really hard at the beginning, but I actually ended up feeling a bit sorry for her partway through, and it is gratifying to see her loosen up a little and make some friends.
Both of these books I definitely read to the end, and I enjoyed seeing the character's journey. Yes, they were frustrating at the beginning, but I think the authors both managed to plant the seed of possibility for change in the protagonist...and that is essential. I have to see some tiny speck of goodness in their personality (or on the flip side, sympathy-inducing aspect of their situation) that leads me to have hope that they will become more likeable.
Because frankly, I don't like to read about totally despicable people. I know some readers like Wuthering Heights, but though I'm pretty sure I read to the bitter end, the characters turned me off. What's there to enjoy about characters that start out as selfish, twisted and vengeful...and never learn? Catherine and Heathcliff spend the whole novel tormenting each other! Also, I like to see some growth within a certain number of pages...it doesn't have to be major, but it has to be something. For instance, I disliked Crime and Punishment partly because Raskolnikov takes so long to change; after committing a crime he spends about 400 pages hemming and hawing before he "sees the light" and makes an important decision. I'm sorry, but I would have probably given up about 200 pages in — if not sooner — if I hadn't been assigned it in school.
|Couldn't resist posting this cover! This must be his 'revelation' scene...a pity you have to slog through 400 pages to get there.|
I've found myself having a similar reaction to the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen. Gorgeous covers and setting, of course, and a few of the characters are decent, but most of them are extremely egotistical, self-serving liars and they have stayed that way through the 3 books I have read! I *want* to have some characters to root for, but they're not giving me much to work with...or much potential for future growth.
So, what about the rest of you? Do you guys prefer to read about characters that are considerably flawed, but make a large improvement by the end? Or ones that are mostly likeable but still screw up now and then? How important is the development of the character vs. their qualities? And do you ever like to read books about characters that are completely unlikeable and don't change?