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cherrypie

To enjoy a book do you have to like or empathise with the main charcter?

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I certainly don't have to like the main characters to enjoy a book, but I do have to find them interesting and believable.  I think there's a lot to admire in someone who is singlemindedly unplesant, even if you don't want to emulate or encourage them.  The world needs more than 'nice' to operate successfully, books are the same.

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An interesting example I have lately come about is Lady Thella in "The Renegades of Pern". The main plot is told from her point of view as she is bullying her way through society just for the sake of showing the finger to the aristocracy. Thella is not likeable as she and her gang are organised criminals, but she is cunning and skilled, which makes her interesting enough to keep you wondering what cards she may still have up her sleeve when she suffers defeat.

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I don't think you have to like or empathize with the main characters of a book in order to enjoy it. For me, the key is whether I find their actions or the plotline of the story interesting.

 

An example of this is Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting and the follow-up, Porno. Putting the film aside (in which Renton was infinitely more likeable than his literary counterpart), the main characters are far from likeable and I certain couldn't relate to them (with Renton being addicted to Heroin, Sick Boy being a user of women and Begbie being an all-out psycho), but the way in which their paths cross and the story unfolds is something I found fascinating enough to cause me to read and re-read both of the books.

 

Lord of the Rings was another example - I found Frodo and the rest of the Hobbits to be almost as irritating as Tom 'let's sing about everything we're doing' Bombadill, but the way in which the tale was told and the way in which the quest developed was something that got me hooked as an 11 year old and still grips me now I'm 36.

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Well for me Yes I want to partake in this journey of the book and I usually like the winning side so I want to connect with the character (Main) and have something relatable. Even if it's just to pretend for a while I would like to have had some of the substance that the character had.

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The whole problem, BTW, was purposefully subverted by the film "The Villain" in which the sly, Wile-E-Coyote-style bandit (Kirk Douglas) wins the hearts of the audience (and of the girl) much more than the utterly brainless white-hat played by a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger at the fullest of his powers.

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I personally think you can still enjoy a book and dislike the characters immensely. I think it comes down to the quality of the story telling, A character can be totally repellent but if the story is engaging you can continue to enjoy it and dislike the character and sometimes in a perverse way it can make you more engaged with the story as you are hoping that they get their just deserts. However, if the characters are dislikeable but the story is weak and the writing poor it can become a bit of drudge to continue as there is nothing you can grasp hold of to give you the incentive to carry on.

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If I'm reading and the main character is obnoxious I would probably not read the book, why read something that irritates you if you are reading for pleasure. The main character in Nelson de Mille's books is a detective whose smart mouth comments were bearable for a couple of books but then they became intensely annoying and I stopped reading de Mille's books which is too bad as his writing and plots are usually good. Other people have told me that they find him funny so maybe I'm the odd man out.

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Its all subjective, what one person finds objectionable about someone wouldn't bother someone else, its the same in real life some people find there are people they click with and people who they can't stand, In real life you try and avoid people who you have personality clashes with, but in a story you are looking at it from a different angle like a third party looking in and I personally find that if the story is engaging enough and has enough other aspects to keep me interested then the personality of the fictional character is sometimes irrelevant and if they are really obnoxious it can in some cases enhance the story.

 

I think a story which highlights this most accurately for me is Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, actually when you look at it objectively the majority of the characters in the story are pretty appalling examples of humanity, but the story is so complex and involved at some parts you actually start finding yourself making excuses for Heathcliffs behaviour.

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I tolerate evil protagonists as long as they are smart. What I greatly dislike are protagonists who are totally simple-minded or stupid and tell their narrative in first person. Makes me want to kick their a...

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I tolerate evil protagonists as long as they are smart. What I greatly dislike are protagonists who are totally simple-minded or stupid and tell their narrative in first person. Makes me want to kick their a...

I have to agree with that there is something quite uncomfortably admirable about an evil genius!

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I have to agree with that there is something quite uncomfortably admirable about an evil genius!

Bret Easton Ellis - American Psycho a book where the main character is very repulsive but you can;t stop reading?

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On the whole I don't mind seeing through the eye of an evil character, if his or her conflicts or vision are fresh.  Thus Humbert Humbert in  Lolita is creepy but fascinating.  . 

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Its all subjective, what one person finds objectionable about someone wouldn't bother someone else, its the same in real life some people find there are people they click with and people who they can't stand, In real life you try and avoid people who you have personality clashes with, but in a story you are looking at it from a different angle like a third party looking in and I personally find that if the story is engaging enough and has enough other aspects to keep me interested then the personality of the fictional character is sometimes irrelevant and if they are really obnoxious it can in some cases enhance the story.

 

I think a story which highlights this most accurately for me is Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, actually when you look at it objectively the majority of the characters in the story are pretty appalling examples of humanity, but the story is so complex and involved at some parts you actually start finding yourself making excuses for Heathcliffs behaviour.

 

On the whole I don't mind seeing through the eye of an evil character, if his or her conflicts or vision are fresh.  Thus Humbert Humbert in  Lolita is creepy but fascinating.  . 

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Can't agree that the simple-minded's view of the world is as exasperating as Romanlike believes.  For instance the batty old lady who narrates Stephen Benatar's Keep Her Safe At Home is quite fascinating.  She's not all batty and not all the time.  One of the pleasures in the book is finding out that she's gradually going senile.

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I don't think one needs to like the protagonist to like the book.  Nabokov's Lolita, for instance, is a fascinating read (I've recently re-read it and enjoyed seeing the world through Humbert -Humbert's eyes).  As for Wuthering Heights, certainly Heathcliff is at times unpleasant and vicious, but he is in a sense a force of nature and he is the book's centre.  I like him when he gets angry and says to Edgar Linton, 'You're not worth knocking down.'  I like him when he gets hold of Hindley Earnshaw and takes his revenge for the former's cruelty to him as a child.  Yes, I do sympathise with Heathcliff despite his being a bastard (in both senses).

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Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho is pretty hard to like but boy, do I love that book.

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I recently read a mystery murder and found it interesting; it wasn't until I finished it that I realized the main character was really shadowy and I didn't know much about her by the end of the book and it left me a bit dissatisfied.

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