Alright, so, in my defense of Catcher in the Rye (here) I took the position that you don’t have to like the main character in order to love the book they star in. But after reading some other great books whose characters I ended up hating (see my take on Stegner’s Angle of Repose, here, or Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, at the tail end of this post) I may be ready to walk that back a little bit.
Maybe I love Catcher in the Rye not just for its literary chops, but also because I have a soft spot for Holden, and because I relate to his sense of humor. I loved Angle of Repose as a work of literature, but hated the grandmother with the white hot passion of a thousand suns. Okay, that’s too strong- but it does aptly describe how I felt about just about every character in Wuthering Heights. Now those characters were so unlikeable that the whole book was doomed for me.
On the other hand, you look at a book like A Bell for Adano, which I reviewed here, and a novel that might have scored an 8 or 9 out of 10, felt to me like an 11, simply because of the main character, Major Joppollo- the man was just downright likeable, and did everything right, against all kinds of odds. I also just re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, and good grief, Atticus Finch was twice as good as I remembered him- twice the man I’ll ever be. That’s a book filled with great characters, and I’d rank it in my Top 5 all-time reads for that reason.
So where do you come down on likeable characters? Do you need them? Is a book doomed without them? Are they just ‘nice to have,’ but not really necessary? Tell us in the comments.