Lola’s Ramblings: Can you enjoy a book if you don’t like the main character?

Posted July 28, 2016 by Lola in Lola's Ramblings / 32 Comments


Lola’s Ramblings is a feature on my blog Lola’s Reviews where I ramble on about a book related or a non-book related topic. These are discussion type of posts where I talk about a topic and readers can weigh in on the topic in the comments. Usually these posts are everything that doesn’t fall under any standard header, like tours, cover reveals, memes, challenges, recaps or reviews. Lola’s Ramblings posts are discussions of a certain topic and my point of view on them. The banner for this feature is designed by Michelle from Limabean Designs.

Recently I was reading a book and I had quite some trouble with the main character. I just didn’t like the character and it made me think how if you don’t like the main character it can get more difficult to enjoy the book. And what the book needed to have to compensate for me not liking the main character. Now the book I am talking about I had a lot more issues with than just not liking the main character and the total of that made me give it a 2 star read, but it did spark this post.

Can I enjoy a book if I don’t like the main character?

Short answer yes I can enjoy a book if I don’t like the main character, but at the same time not liking the main character already does make it a lot less likely that I will enjoy the book.
Overall I think the main character is pretty important to if I enjoy the book. After all we do follow the point of view of the main character and spent a lot of time with them, so if you don’t like their company it can be hard to enjoy the book. Ofcourse there is more to a book then only the main character, a book can be still enjoyable if I don’t like the main character but then it needs to have other aspects that I really like.
There are also different gradations of not liking the main character. If the main character doesn’t do much for you, but you also don’t really dislike them then if the rest of the book is good it can more easily compensate for that. If you really strongly dislike the main character it can get more difficult for the rest of the book to compensate for that.

If I really don’t like the main character in which cases can I still enjoy the book?

  • I (really) like other aspects of the book. In most cases if I don’t like the main character, the other aspects have to compensate for that. I usually explain my opinion about a book based on the following topics (depending on the book which ones are relevant): story, mystery, characters, romance, world building and setting. So if I don’t like the main characters, but the story is great, I like the world building or setting and I feel the romance, I can still enjoy the book as a whole. If all aspects are bad it most likely won’t be a book I enjoy, but if I don’t like the characters and the other aspects aren’t really outstanding either it will most likely end up being a 3 star read at most. So basically the other aspects need to be good enough to compensate for not liking the main character.
  • Multiple point of views. If a book is written by multiple point of views and I don’t like one of the main characters I can still enjoy the book overall if I like the other characters who’s point of view we get. I remember a few romances where I didn’t like one of the characters though and in a romance book it does get difficult to enjoy the romance if you don’t like one of the characters, but if well written the other character I do like and the writing can compensate for me not liking one of the characters.
  • Side characters. Same as with the point above a fun cast of side characters can make it feel less bad that I don’t like the main character as I do enjoy most of the other characters.
  • Main character is still interesting/ fun to read about. Just because I don’t like the main character it still doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy reading about the character. Say for example the main character is unlikeable, but very realistic, interesting or original chances are I still enjoy reading about this character. Or if for some reason or another I still care or feel invested about what happens to this characters.
  • Reason for their behavior. if I don’t like a main character, but can understand why they act that way or feel like it makes sense why they act that way, it can go a long way to compensate for me not liking them.

Can you enjoy a book if you don’t like the main character?


32 responses to “Lola’s Ramblings: Can you enjoy a book if you don’t like the main character?

    • Indeed it’s possible to enjoy a book if you don’t like the main character. Although I prefer to like the main character, good side characters can make up for a lot.
      Lola recently posted…Sunday Post #189My Profile

  1. I find it almost impossible to like the book if I hate the MC. If the MC is mildly annoying and there are no other annoying tropes I hate, then yes I can put it asise if the book is well written. But if I HATE the MC I cannot root for them and that seriously undermines the whole plot and I usually end up quitting the book. There are too many other books out there waiting for me to read to waste time with dreadful characters! I’ve found recently that authors are using obnoxious MCs more and more and I really don’t understand why they risk alienating their target audience by doing it!

    • It does depend o n how much you dislike the MC and how the rest of the book is, but in some cases the rest of the book can compensate for a not likeable main character. In other cases not liking the main character can really ruin the book for me. I definitely prefer it if I like the main character or at least in same way am invested in them or care what happens with them.

  2. Whew, ok, I have lots to say about this topic, so here comes a long comment lol. Although I think you really said most of it, and I agree with pretty much everything you said.

    Whenever this topic comes up, I think about how I actually hate the MC in one of my absolute favorite series. She got kidnapped in one book, and I didn’t even care because I felt like she deserved it at that point for all the stupid crap she was doing. That’s how bad it is. But I’m so invested in the other characters that it hasn’t killed my enjoyment. And the book is written from a whole bunch of POVs, so it’s not like I’m stuck with only her all the time. And the other funny thing about that series is, my favorite character in it is an awful person. He’s abusive and manipulative, but he’s so incredibly realistic that it sucks me in, and I even have found myself feeling bad for him and having to remind myself that he’s a jerk and doesn’t deserve my sympathy. So no, I don’t need to like the MC as long there are other characters I do like and am invested in. And no, I don’t actually have to like a character as a person, he just has to be interesting to read about. Which is what you said, but I’m saying that I’m the same lol.

    I can also enjoy a book even if I don’t really feel anything for any of the characters as long as the plot, the writing, etc. is all great, but those are the books that are forgettable. I might rate them high, but I won’t still be thinking about in a month, six months, two years, or however long.

    Another one of my favorite series is what you described about not disliking the MC but not really liking them either. But again, I loved some of the other characters and everything else about the books, so it was fine. And the writing was done well enough that I still felt her emotions and whatnot.

    And what you said about a reason for the behavior is true too.

    Anyway, basically I’ve enjoyed books that fall into each thing you described lol, and I agree with your whole post.
    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight recently posted…Book Review: Crisped + Sere (Immemorial Year Book 2) by TJ KluneMy Profile

    • Don’t worry I love your long comments 😉

      And yes I think there are totally instances were you can dislike the main character and still love the book, but like the example you used there have to be other things to keep your interest. And in that case the multiple point of views probably help a lot as well. And sometimes those nasty/ bad/ awful characters can be the ones that feel most realistic. And we both seem to love those realistic characters.

      I actually considered renaming this post and focusing on the cases were the main character was interesting, but not likeable. But decided it fit better as an exception of when I can enjoy a book while I don’t like the main characters. And I think if none of the characters are interesting or likeable, the other elements have to be really good to make up for it. Not impossible, but it sure makes it harder to enjoy a book.

      I have enjoyed some books were I didn’t like the main characters, but often the memorable ones are those were I like some of the characters at least as characters are important for reading. In fact my last 5 star read was very character driven and I loved it and liked almost all characters and/or found them interesting.

  3. This is a hard one. It does depend on the book itself and the author’s writing, I think. But on the other hand I read People Who Knew ME, and the premise was good, the author was clearly a good writer, but not good enough to make me like an absolute horrible main character — a normal woman, a mother who loved her child, and used 9/11 to fake her death to escape her life because her baby was the result of an affair. She couldn’t face the consequences of her choice and readers were supposed to sympathise and understand her choice. And she threw in a cancer diagnosis to up the sympathy angle (for me at least). I hated everything about the main character and kept waiting for some sort of redemption for her, but what there was just didn’t do anything for my opinion of the main character. Gah. It still annoys me all these months later
    Verushka recently posted…The Trap: unsettling and unexpectedMy Profile

    • Yes I thin k it really does depend on the book and the writing if you can enjoy it without liking the character. It also does depend on how much you dislike the main character. If you hate everything about the main character I can see how it will be almost impossible to enjoy the book no matter how good the rest is.

  4. I’ve read several books where I didn’t like the main character, but I still enjoyed the book. I’m very much a secondary character person. They tend to be my favorite characters in a book. The thing I have a hard time with is if I don’t like any characters in a book. I’ve listened to a few of those and even though I thought that the books were extremely well written, I just couldn’t get into the stories because I didn’t like either of the characters. Both of these books were suspenseful and I didn’t care if any of the characters, if they lived or died. I can appreciate the quality of the writing and storytelling, but still not enjoy the story if I don’t like the characters.

    I have the same problem with TV shows. A ton of people love House of Cards. I’ve watched most of the first season. I can tell you the acting and the storytelling is amazing, but I HATE every character in the show. I want them all to get what is coming to them. They are all horrible people. I just couldn’t watch it any more. I know a ton of people who love that show. I just can’t.
    Melanie Simmons @mlsimmons recently posted…Rise Audiobook by Mira Grant (REVIEW)My Profile

    • Secondary characters can make up for a lot if you like them even while you don’t like the main character. I also have some reads were I like the secondary character as much or even more than the main characters. But if you don’t like any of the characters or care about what happens to them it’s really hard to still be able to enjoy the book. And yes I think it’s the same with tv shows, if you don’t like any of the characters or even hate them it’s going to be almost impossible to watch and enjoy the show.

  5. I feel the same about this, in that I am less likely to enjoy a book if I don’t like the main character, but a lot of it depends on other factors.
    I recently read The Girl On The Train for example, and none of the main character are very likeable at all, even if you do feel sorry for them. However, because it was a thriller I still enjoyed the book because the story was good and the character’s flaws (which is a large part of what made them unlikeable) played a huge part in the way the book panned out. Not to mention the psychological aspect of the book, and I feel like not very nice people can often have the most interesting psyches.
    However, if I’m reading something like fantasy and am meant to be following and rooting for the main character as they go on their quest, I do really need to like them a lot more to enjoy the story. So it really does depend!
    Great topic! 🙂
    Laura recently posted…5 Reasons To Read FantasyMy Profile

    • Yes other factors definitely play a role in if I can still enjoy a book if I don’t like the main characters.

      I haven’t read The Girl on the Train, but I have heard from multiple people the main characters weren’t likeable, but it was still a good read. It seems they are still interesting through with their flaws and psyches.

      And I think it can also depend on the genre/ how the book is written.

  6. Yes, I love it even more especially the ones who are so straightforward with their flaws like Gone Girl and Luckiest Girl Alive. They know they’re deplorable and I find it fascinating to get in their heads trying to understand where the bitchiness is coming from. That’s the draw for me, so even if they’re not your typical hero I still love the shift in the narrative.
    Braine Talk Supe recently posted…Supe Shots feat. M.J. Rose, April Genevieve Tucholke, J.R. WardMy Profile

    • Yes characters definitely don’t have to be likeable as long as they are interesting to read about or feel realistic. It sure if fun to follow the story of people you might not like, it can be fascinating to try and understand those characters as well.

  7. I love when a book is so good that I don’t even care that I hate the narrator/ M/C. I also love reading books where you aren’t supposed to like the Main Character’s, but still like the book. Gillian Flynn’s books come to mind in that instance. All her main peeps are pretty awful, but I LOVE her books. You aren’t supposed to relate to her characters because they are messed up beyond belief, but yet somehow I still end up understanding them?? It’s weird.

    How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr is a book where I think I was maybe supposed to like the M/C, but didn’t, but then still liked the book because it was SO good. Also, UGHHH I hated Callie in Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller but still enjoyed the book.

    Love your post and topic 🙂
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    • If the main character isn’t likeable, but still realistic and/ or interesting it can still be a great read. And if the book is really good I can still enjoy it if I don’t like the main character, but it does make it harder to enjoy the book usually. I do prefer to like the main character.

  8. My first thought was “No.” Because if I really dislike the main character, there usually aren’t enough reasons for me to keep reading the book. Since most books focus on that main character. I may like some of the secondary characters, or the plot might be appealing. But if I can’t stand reading about the main character, I just won’t read any more of the book or the series in general.

    That said, I do have one series that I adore which has a main character that I’m fairly over. I liked her a lot in the beginning, but the series took a downward spiral where she suddenly became a Mary Sue and had Godlike powers. It’s starting to get better again, but not as good as it was in the first 7 or so books. However, I love some of the secondary characters so much at this point that I’m willing to put up with the main character in order to read about them. And because of this, the series is only a library read. I won’t buy them anymore unless the books get better again, they’re totally my guilty pleasure and all because of secondary characters.

    But in general? If it’s not a series I was addicted to early on and liked the main character early on, if I don’t like reading about the main character I tend to DNF and move on.
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    • It is difficult to enjoy a book if you don’t like the main character. And I find that the rest has to be really good usually to compensate.

      Oh I am not a fan of godlike powers or when the main character becomes too much of a special snowflake, so I can see why you don’t like that main character as much. But that’s great the side characters are great and you still enjoy them.

    • If you don’t like one of the characters in a multiple point of view book the rest can still make up for it. I can enjoy a book when I don’t like the main character if the rest is good, but it does make it harder to enjoy the book.
      Lola recently posted…Sunday Post #189My Profile

  9. There are actually a lot of books that I quite like that have a main charrie that I despised. The most obvious example for me is the Vampire Academy series — seriously cannot STAND Rose, but I still loved the books. I found the world unique, the plot interesting, and I LOVED the side characters (especially Adrian), so that kept me engaged. And even though I didn’t LIKE Rose, she still felt realistic, so that’s also important. If I don’t like a main character because they’re just poorly written, I’m probably not going to finish the book.
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    • I did like Rose in VA, but I can see how even if you don’t like her the books still would be fun to read as the plot/ world building and side characters are great too. Have you read Bloodlines? You see more of Adrian in there. I actually strongly disliked Adrian in VA and only in Bloodlines I managed to like him.
      And how realistic/ interesting the main character is when you don’t like them, really can make a difference.
      Lola recently posted…Sunday Post #189My Profile

        • Oh I am sorry to hear that! It is a good series, I have read al the books except for the last one. Still have to find time to fit that one in.

  10. Hmmm, this is a tough one. If there are alternating POVs and I’m not stuck with a main character I despise for long periods of time, and I like the other characters or world, I can like a book or series. When the book is in first person and I’m stuck with them, I usually give up if I don’t like them. So, for me, it depends on whether the book has more to offer me than a person I don’t like.

    I never read the book (only saw the movie) but everyone says this about GONE GIRL, how they despised both the husband and the wife, yet they were so drawn into the story, they couldn’t put it down. So, there are times when a book’s characters are meant to push your buttons and keep you in the story. I feel like I’m incapable of writing those kids of books (Lol) but I have infinite respect for the authors that can write them!
    S. J. Pajonas recently posted…Sunday Update – July 31, 2016My Profile

    • Well said! If the book has more to offer than a character I don’t like I can still enjoy it, but often it’s harder to enjoy the book when I don’t like the main characters.

      One or two other people also mentioned Gone Girl as a comment on this post. It sure sounds well written if it can draw you in even while you despise the characters. But yes in that case you aren’t meant to like them, so maybe that also matters.

  11. I’m a very character driven reader – in that the characters matter more to my enjoyment of a book than any other elements. So if I don’t like the main character, it’s really unlikely that I will like the book. It helps if I love the other characters or if I LOVE having the main character. But for me, a good plot alone doesn’t do the trick.
    Berls recently posted…My TBR List | August 2016 VotingMy Profile

    • I am a pretty character driven character myself as well, but other elements matter as well. A good plot, mystery or world building can at times compensate for me for not liking the main character, but in general I do prefer to at least somewhat like the main character.

  12. Hmmm…. If the story is really, really interesting, I’d still probably read on, or if you know it’s a series and I have to get through that book to read the next one. In the Heroes of Olympus series where Jason was the main character, I have to admit that I really struggled with that one. But after that was Son of Neptune (where Percy was), but I knew I wouldn’t understand the second book and the books after if I skipped the Jason-centric book. Ugh, I guess it’s because the two characters had different personalities and I liked the other one more.
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    • That’s a good point as well! With series you might not like the main character or couple in one of the books, but if the next book has a different main character or couple you might still continue to read.

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