Here are some of the best books known for having unlikeable characters.
There are countless books known for having unlikeable characters. The unlikeable protagonist trope isn’t for everyone. But it does make for a very interesting read.
The unlikeable protagonist is exactly what it sounds like. The main character of a book or other form of a story that is disliked by audiences. They can be vain or selfish, people with a limited worldview, or a straight-out psychopath from a true crime story.
At Bondi Beauty, we have narrowed it down to four iconic books with an unlikeable protagonist you need to read.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn into a mighty stranger: I should not seem part of it.” – Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights.
Best For: Anyone with a passion for literature
No, Wuthering Heights is not just a Kate Bush song. Yes, the song is amazing, and so is the book.
Wuthering Heights’ protagonist, Catherine, may be one of the first unlikeable protagonists ever to be created in print. Wuthering Heights is a tormented and haunting love story, published initially under Emily Brontë’s pen name, Ellis Bell, in 1847.
The famous classic is a love or hate. It has aged into a well-celebrated novel and one with an unlikeable protagonist.
Due to its age, the language is very different, and there is even one character written how he speaks, with a strong accent and hard to understand, making it a bit difficult to read.
It is a passionate story about a relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the orphan her father had adopted and brought to Wuthering Heights when they were children.
Catherine forms a strong bond with Heathcliff, but her brother Hindley has a hatred towards him, seeing him as a rival. Heathcliff becomes torn between his love for Catherine and rage and humiliation, and eventually, he cannot stand it any longer, leaving Wuthering Heights for three years.
As for Catherine as an unlikeable protagonist, you get the sense that she thinks she is better than everyone else. Raised in a place of wealth, she is nihilistic, self-indulgent and somewhat destructive.
While Heathcliff is gone, Catherine gets married, but her heart, of course, still belongs to Healthcliff, who soon devotes his life to wreaking revenge on her family.
We love the gothic energy in this book. It’s tragic, haunting, sad and yearning, so everything enjoyable about a classic novel.
It is a bit difficult to read and took us a while to fully get into the novel, but once you are, you are immersed into this tragic love story with striking gothic elements, and you can feel the emotions of the characters so deeply. It is undeniably well-crafted, and you need to read it at least once in your lifetime.
Bondi Beauty Rating: 3/5
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
“We were utterly dependent on this man, who was not only deluded and ignorant, but incompetent in every way.” – Donna Tartt, The Secret History.
Genre: Psychological Fiction
Best for: Dark academia x psychological fiction lovers
The Secret History is our favourite psychological fiction book that has an unlikeable protagonist. While also unlikeable, the protagonist, Richard, comes across as unreliable.
Author Donna Tartt is an American novelist and essayist. She has received much praise for her work, including her novel The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has been adapted into a film.
The Secret History is the first novel by Donna Tartt and one of the best debut novels by an author.
The modern classic occurs in New England, mainly in an elite college. The novel follows a group of clever and eccentric misfits, told through the perspective of Richard Papen, a lower-middle-class young adult who grew up in California, now surrounded by many wealthy and different students.
“Does such thing as ‘the fatal flaw’, that showy dark crack running down the middle of life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does.” The famous first line sets out the rest of the novel—psychological manipulation, questioning friendships, and death.
Richard is desperate to join Julian’s class, the classics professor, after he starts to observe his five students. He eventually gets accepted into this group that Richard sees as sophisticated and classy and starts to idolise them, which is where the unreliable narration starts to occur. We see all the characters through Richard’s eyes, and the reader will never know what they are really like.
Eventually, everything becomes dark and twisted, and we start to learn more about Richard’s experience with this group of people. We see Richard’s flaws and transformation throughout the book, which he later realises but does not fix.
This is what makes it enjoyable. The reckless narration and themes of manipulation, isolation and guilt make you want to read page after page.
There are a lot of references to Greek history, inspiration drawn from the 5th Century BC tragedy, The Bacchae, by Euripides. The twisted story is hefty but definitely worth it and easy to read once you’re really into it, which doesn’t take too long.
Bondi Beauty rating: 5/5
Bunny by Mona Awad
“Our mothers always said to look hard at the things of this world that are owies on the eyes because they will put more colors in your inner rainbow.” – Mona Awad, Bunny.
Genre: Contemporary dark comedy
Best for: Heathers fans
Think The Secret History mixed with Heathers, and you’ve got one of the best thrilling, crazy teen drama in one book.
Bunny is everything you need in a book. It has elements from some of the best genres, including horror, classic, psychological and drama.
Mona Awad is a Canadian novelist and short-story writer with her debut novel, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and received the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Awad is known for works of darkly comic fiction, which is precisely what Bunny is.
The protagonist, Samantha Heather Mackey, feels like an outsider in her small, highly selective Master of Fine Arts programme at Warren University. With her major in fiction writing, she doesn’t make it a secret that she repels the rest of her cohort. That is until this clique of twee rich girls, who call each other ‘Bunny’, start giving her attention.
The Bunnies invite Samantha to join them one night, and she finds herself at their front door. Little does she know she’s about to go on an adventure down their rabbit hole of twisted and dark experiences.
Without getting too much into detail and ruining the surprising reading experience, Bunny is a genius satire that instantly pulls you into the world of the Bunnies. It also has such a specific aesthetic that you can easily visualise while reading. The Bunnies are an image of twee and pastels with a perfect mix of weirdness.
As for Samantha being an unlikeable protagonist, it comes more from the Bunnies’ effect on her. Awad darkly captures Samantha’s transformation, mentally and physically, as a character. If you’re a fan of Heathers with even more of a dark twist, this one is for you.
Bondi Beauty rating: 5/5
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
“Everyone I knew at school hated me because I was so pretty.” – Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation.
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Best for: A satirical read
Ottessa Moshfegh is a professional of writing unlikeable protagonists. In most of her works, including bestseller Eileen and Death in Her Hands, we come across some pretty self-indulged, crazy and unique unlikeable characters. Ottessa Moshfegh is an American author, and her debut novel, Eileen, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
Moshfegh writes some of the most whimsical and erratic stories, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation seems the most unpredictable. As described in the blurb, the protagonist is ‘young, thin, pretty….’, also a recent Colombia graduate living in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for by her inheritance.
The protagonist remains unnamed throughout the book as we see her navigate a life full of wealth, choice and privilege.
It’s 2000, and the protagonist decides to undergo what could only be described as a somewhat chemical hibernation.
During this hibernation attempt, her best friend Reva occasionally visits her. The protagonist likes to make it clear that Reva is a jealous person, making sly comments about Reva’s appearance and feeding her insecurities constantly. It makes us want a story from Reva’s perspective because, realistically, Reva was her only friend.
Meetings with her crazy and definitely unqualified doctor were the source of this hibernation. She aimed to consume as many different drugs to the point of hallucination, blackouts and sleep… a year of rest and relaxation.
With social references to New York City pre and during 9/11, it is one of the oddest commentaries we have read.
While it’s not the original unlikeable protagonist, many people see it as the blueprint, something that started the discussion of the trend. Moshfegh has a commentary that is unique, funny and sometimes questionable, which results in either way an enjoyable read for us.
Bondi Beauty Rating: 3.5/5
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