Saturday, January 29, 2005

Building Character

Can a book be great literature if you hate the characters?

A recent conversation about Oryx and Crake (inspired by this snobbish and blinkered review) spawned the question of whether a book can be considered great if you hate the characters. Not hate as in wouldn't-want-to-hang-out-with or think-should-be-killed, but as in can-barely-stand-reading-about (because they are annoying, tedious, boring, hateful, just plain unlikeable, etc.).

Rejected as having terrible characters that you secretly like, or at least like reading about: A Clockwork Orange, Silence of the Lambs, Les liaisons dangereuese. A possible contender is Wuthering Heights, except I think it's a terrible book in addition to its having a very hateable character or five. (See Jasper Fforde's Well of Lost Plots for an amusing depiction of the awfulness of Heathcliff and Co.).

So: are there any great books that have terrible characters? Comments not just encouraged but demanded.
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