TTT: My 10 Favorite Fictional Unlikable Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

For me, reading is all about the characters. I want them to be interesting. I want them to have chutzpah and gumption and a *teensy* bit of common sense. They need to develop, have interesting viewpoints, be flawed. So actually, I really like the normally “unlikable” characters. I think villains are interesting. They have goals, ambition, flaws, a story arc. My actual least favorite characters are not bad–they’re one dimensional. I have (and will continue to) stop reading a book if the main character

1) delights in violence and evil “just because”

2) they are wishy washy and let everyone walk over them with nary a peep of protest

3) don’t let anything change them over the course of the story

4) don’t have interesting flaws/motivation/back story

5) are continually whining

6) they have no self-awareness

Strong characters have flaws. And sometimes those flaws are formidable, horrible, and gut wrenching. But if they’re interesting, I’ll enjoy the book not despite, but because of the complexity.

From least to most favorite character (not necessarily book):

the narrator from My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This is one of those books that people either love or hate. The main character is vain, petty, and totally willing to do what it takes to escape from her life in the form of keeping herself drugged. Like if Sleeping Beauty chose her curse. But although I couldn’t relate to the narrator I found this scenario so insanely outside my realm of understanding, I just had to keep reading. I wanted to understand this character even though I didn’t like her at all. That never happened. But it was still a great book in my opinion. An unapologetically unlikable figure.

pretty much everyone in The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I don’t have a favorite unfavorite character from this book. I love/hated them all equally. Like Moshfegh, Tartt is really skilled with unlikable characters. I would never want to inhabit their world, but I liked the peek through the window.

also pretty much everyone, but especially Behemoth in The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

I really love this book, where the Devil comes to Moscow, creates a witch, and then puts on a party. Behemoth is a monstrous (in size but also in behavior) black cat who also has a human form. I think he’s actually more unlikable than the Devil but he’s so much fun and creates so much mischief. Now I want to reread it.

Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Oh Dorian, so vain and dumb to think that life wouldn’t eventually catch up with you… but it’s fun while it lasts.

Zenia from The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

She’s manipulative, gorgeous, and even her friends love to hate her. But you can’t really hate all that glamor and poise. At least I can’t. I think she also makes an appearance in several of Atwood’s short stories.

Olympia/Oly from Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Oly is kind of entitled to be unlikable. She’s dealt with a lot of traumatic crap in her life such as her parents purposefully trying to get their children to have “interesting” birth defects for their circus act….

the wizard from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I think the Witch of the West is pretty one dimensional in the original book–she’s much more complex in the Wicked books, but ultimately not unlikable, which negates her for this list. No, my favorite unlikable character from the first book is definitely the wizard. Oh that lovable humbug. He’s just such an American villainfaking it till he makes it. He becomes more likable in subsequent books in the series–leaning into his role as inventor, showman, and tinkerer honestly.

Hugo from The Epicure’s Lament by Kate Christensen

Hugo is so grumpy. He has so many hot takes. But this novel is complex and philosophical and I just really like him in spite of his grouchy behavior. Don’t attempt the sauce recipe he makes through. Blech. I did–and I’m telling you now–save yourself.

The Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Off with her head! I mean–almost everyone in these two books is unlikable. I don’t really like Alice all the time. Especially the Disney version where she comes off as a little insipid. But the book is so playful, so absurd and delightful, and no one embodies this quite as much as the Queen of Hearts and her bloodthirsty whims.

Lady Bracknell from The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

I’m actually not sure if Lady Bracknell is supposed to be unlikable. But since she tries to thwart the lovers–I’m counting it. I absolutely love this character and how snobby she is. This is a play where the writing is much more lovable than any of the characters to be honest, but it’s one of my absolute favorite…book is not the right word. Pieces of fiction? She’s a very complex character as well–probably the most complex in the play. She actually changes her mind rather than the circumstances changing to suit her. Although pretty much everything she says runs counter to my own beliefs, she just says it so decisively and with so much wit.

“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like delicate exotic fruit; tough it and the bloom is gone.”

Lady Bracknell, Act One

Who is your favorite unlikable character? Let me know in the comments.

Baking for Bookworms: Holiday Ham Sauce from Kate Christensen’s The Epicure’s Lament


So I don’t exactly have a recipe or a normal post for you.

Because I made this sauce.

And it was just. so. gross.

So I will not be sharing the recipe with you. Because you will hate me if I do. I mean, I will share vaguely. But don’t make it.

So the Hugo, the narrator, claims to be a bit of a cook, and he wrangles up plenty of meals that actually don’t sound half bad. He says that cooking is one of his only pleasures in life, and the food in the book is simple, yet gourmet. The pleasures that the narrator take in food seem to belie his intention to kill himself when his (totally reversible by quitting smoking) chronic disease becomes too much to bear. As much as he wants to claim that he’s happy being alone and ready to end his existence, the pleasure he takes in the experience of human seems to contradict this. However, he continues his relentless journey towards his end with a perverse kind of dedication and wish for solitude that  he applies to cooking. And even he notices there is some kind of irony in taking pleasure from cooking huge meals that others (who he’s alienated himself from) won’t eat. He talks about the holiday sauce in his journal as something he’ll never make or eat again.

The sauce is no exception. But I don’t know where the author found it because–yuck! I’m not sharing the exact quote with you because it contains the recipe, and I want to protect you from this sauce.

So in a nutshell: shallots sautéed in butter, stout beer, dried cherries, and brown sugar.

I thought it might be just weird enough to work, but it was just bad. It might be okay (ish) if you make it with wine. Maybe. But the stout impacted this incredibly bitter taste that was not jiving with the sweet things.

I call this one a big failure, but it just goes to show you you shouldn’t believe everything you read about is going to taste good.

On a happier note though,  I had great success with the ham that Paul brought home. It was delicious. I roasted it on a low temperature, just in its own juices with no added sugar or anything, and it turned out great!

What’s the last thing you made that epically failed?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #63: The Epicure’s Lament by Kate Christensen


Kate Christensen’s novel is written in diary format, though the narrator would probably not like it being referred to that way. But it’s written as a series of notebooks he writes his private thoughts in and doesn’t let anyone read…so a diary. There’s nothing wrong with having a diary of course; I’ve had one for years (though I do occasionally read aloud from it, especially to settle important relationship disputes, such as where Paul and I went for our fourth anniversary dinner. It was Del Alma in Corvallis, Oregon, which is really great place to go for a nice dinner, in case you were wondering).

The narrator is dying from an entirely preventable disease that he could reverse if he gave up smoking–something he categorically refuses to do. He’s rude, crude, and really nothing more than a snarky hermit living in a family mansion that’s going to ruins as quickly as his body. So naturally, he’s brilliant. He makes you fall in love with all his horrible qualities. He is, in a word, fascinating. Also neurotic, paranoid, self-centered, and crabby. Christensen creates one of those lovely characters you love to hate. And makes him say wonderfully archaic things that are out of sync with reality, but somehow just right. This book should be offensive, but it’s really just good fun in the strangest way. I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks the world is too PC, who enjoys uncouth protagonists, or who just needs something very good to read.