Unlikeable (But Not Irredeemable) Characters

Certain characters you just love to hate– you know the type. But perhaps my favorite is when a character supersedes that standing, starting out unlikeable only to become someone you actually find yourself rooting for. These sorts of unlikeable characters can really worm their way into your heart despite the odds. And I think you might just find a few new unlikely favorites in the books below. Trust me, their bark is worse than their bite.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch

A curmudgeon, that’s what Ove is. He may be rightly called an old man now, but he’s always been an old soul at heart. And now he’s ready to die. After losing his wife and his job, there’s just nothing left for him to do really. That’s how he sees it, anyway. Time for a change in routine, simple as that. But his neighbors just won’t leave him alone, especially the new pregnant one, Parvaneh, and her husband who doesn’t even know how to drive a truck. They’re in constant need of his help, whether they realize it or not. Ove will just have to stick around a little bit longer to make sure they don’t mess anything up too badly.

An old man set in his ways and not afraid to speak his mind– it’s clear why Ove doesn’t come across as the most loveable character at first. He’s grumpy and brusque and not at all friendly. But underneath that exterior is a man who’s lived a hard life and is full of desire to help others–even if he doesn’t always see it that way. He’s still just as much of a grump by the end, but the more you get to know his story and see the heart behind the grumpiness, the more you can’t help but fall a little bit in love with him. Let’s just say I was crying by the end.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Wallace is just about the worst person you could ever meet. He’s a high-paid lawyer who doesn’t care about friends or family or just about anything other than he job. Our first introduction to him involves him firing an employee who has just finished telling him how important the job is to her. And that pretty much sets the tone for his whole deal. But then he dies. Suddenly. And after being escorted to a ferryman running a teashop, he’s confronted not only with how he chose to live his life, but whether that life was even a good or fulfilling one.

Basically It’s A Wonderful Life meets contemporary fantasy. It’s full of TJ Klune’s signature wit and charm (which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve read The House in the Cerulean Sea, another incredible read). And despite his rough beginnings, by the end you’ll be cheering for Wallace and hoping he gets a happy ending.

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse, the classic unlikeable protagonist about whom Jane Austen famously said: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Well, sorry Ms. Austen, but you were only partially right. Yes, Emma‘s titular character is a rather unlikeable matchmaker with little common sense or understanding of the lives of others. And yet, despite it all, throughout the years readers haven’t been able to help but root for Emma, even as we shake our heads in dismay at all her terrible decisions.

“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

Jane Austen

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel of manners features a number of unlikeable characters and lots of melodrama. In the fictional land of Loisail, there is a sharp divide between the notable socialites and the lower classes. Staying with her cousin in the city, Nina hopes to become one of the renowned Beautiful Ones that rule Losail society. Her telekinetic powers, however, make her introduction difficult. Hector Auvray is a famous telekinetic showman, and Nina falls for him instantly. There’s only one problem: Henry gave his heart away long ago to the wife of Nina’s cousin. And now he’s determined to get it back. If that means playing into Nina’s good graces to see more of his love, Valerie. Trust me when I say you’ll want to give Hector a good shake for about the first half of the book. But by the end, after thinking him absolutely unredeemable, you might just find yourself rooting for him.

Austen meets The Great Gatsby meets a Victorian-esque magical society.

Who are your favorite unlikeable characters? Which ones do you love to hate and hate to love? Share them in the comments!

Author: Rachel Brittain

Rachel is a writer for Book Riot and Tor.com. Her short fiction has been published in Andromeda Spaceways, Luna Station Quarterly, and others. Screaming about books is one of her favorite past times.

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