Can your Main Characters be unlikeable? Apparently they can, judging by two books I have read recently. Actually, in both instances the main characters were not only unlikeable but there was nothing redeeming about them. Nothing made me feel sympathetic to their plight (as a sidebar, both books were bestsellers which has me scratching my head). This leads me to a basic rule of writing: your reader should be interested in your main character. So perhaps unlikeable is OK as long as they are interesting.
It begs the question as to why I would keep turning the pages about characters that not only did I not like but really did not care about. In both instances, the books had riveting plots and lots of unexpected twists. One of them was even set during a fascinating time period. It was enough to keep me reading.
However by the end of both books, I was left with a feeling of irritation. And for one book, a sense of frustration as the narrator was not only unlikeable but unreliable as well and I am still not sure how that book ended.
We are instructed as writers to make our characters sympathetic, make them strike a chord with the reader, make the reader care about what happens to them. In both instances, the writers appeared to know the rules well and obviously felt comfortable enough breaking them.
Perhaps this is experimental writing at its best; perhaps I am naive and there are more unlikeable characters than I care to admit. But it is not my cup of tea.
I want a character that I find interesting, that I can root for; that I can care about and who will stay with me long after I put the book down. I do not want a main character who causes me to grit my teeth in the end and throw the book across the room because, then, reading has lost its pleasure and satisfaction.
What about you? Is it important for you to both like and be interested in what happens to the main character of a book your reading?