Wonderful Books Featuring Unlikeable Protagonists

We live in a culture where we’re supposed to all like each other, at least on Facebook. But what happens when our authors write unlikeable characters? Some of the protagonists below are beyond unlikeable — they are murderers, molesters, and unrepentant abusers — the Raskolnikovs of contemporary literature (with one throwback included in the list). How are we supposed to relate to someone who does reprehensible things and rarely looks back? Do we read on, or do we throw the book against the wall in exasperation? We wrote about morally questionable authors last week, but think it’s time to examine the voice and actions of main characters this time around, because it can be difficult to get through a novel when you can’t stand the person you’re reading about.

African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou

For the duration of this short novel, Gregoire Nakobomayo, a pitifully ineffectual metal worker, keeps trying to talk himself into killing his girlfriend as he debates which murder weapon to use and when. Will it be a gun or a knife? As Nakobomayo says in the opening lines, “killing someone requires both psychological and logistical preparedness… it is now a question of detail.” You almost want him to do it, just so he’ll have something else to talk about for once.