Thoughtful Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Is Fun Again. This week:
Do you need to like the protagonist to enjoy the book?
Assuming that the protagonist is well written, do you need to like the protagonist to enjoy the book? Does the protagonist need to share similar values to you or be an extension of you in some way? Can the protagonist be completely different from you and you still enjoy the book?
Definitely not! There are plenty of books that I like even though I don’t particularly care for their protagonist. The first example that comes to my mind is The Diviners, which I read last month. The protagonist, Evie, is a spoiled brat who has very few redeeming qualities (especially at the start of the story). Would I be friends with Evie? Hell no, she’s a terrible person. But did I enjoy her story? Yes, I did! Because Evie was an interesting and well-written character, and while I personally disagreed about some of her choices I could understand her motivations and I wanted to see how her storyline played out.
So I don’t believe it’s necessary to like a protagonist to enjoy a book. The converse is certainly not true, there’s plenty of times where I liked a protagonist but disliked the book — especially with longer series, where I still like a character but their development goes nowhere and the author keeps using the same old plot until I’m sick of it. (Case in point: loved Lady Georgiana, gave up on Her Royal Spyness after the terrible fourth book.)
That said, my favourite books are usually the ones where I fall in love with the protagonist, and where the protagonist shares some (or most) of my values. I think that’s inevitable. I love Hero Jarvis from the Sebastian St. Cyr books because she doesn’t want to get married and is big about social reform. But I’m also fine with reading books with characters who want to get married and have kids, as proven by the ridiculous amount of Regency romance novels that I read.
As long as the characters are interesting, I don’t mind if they’re different from me. I don’t like wishy-washy protagonists that are meant to have no personality just so the reader can imagine herself as them. I don’t want the protagonist to be me, I want the protagonist to be herself! To be honest I judge people who dislike a book just because they didn’t like the protagonist. I understand that it’s an important factor, but if it’s their only reason, as in “I would have liked this book but unfortunately the main character is a monarchist and I’m a supporter of the republic” I’m sorry but I think that’s stupid.
Anyway, many of the books that I read have multiple protagonists, if not multiple points of view (hello, A Song of Ice and Fire!) so even if I don’t like one of the protagonists I will at least like someone else. It’s very difficult for me to finish a book if I hate all of its characters, in that case I usually give up on the book within the first couple of chapters. Then again, if all of the characters are unlikeable there’s usually other problems with the writing that will turn me off the book.