fictional friendsPosted: May 16, 2013
In “Would You Want to Be Friends with Humbert Humbert?: A Forum on ‘Likeability,'” The New Yorker asks whether or not it’s important to like characters in books. They surveyed five authors–Donald Antrim, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Rivka Galchen, and Tessa Hadley–all of whom dislike the notion to varying degrees.
The question came about because Publishers Weekly asked Claire Messud if she would be friends with the narrator in her new novel, The Woman Upstairs, and Messud responded with enough scorn to make it clear that she’s tired of and insulted by this sort of question. This exchange (and other parts of the interview) led to The New Yorker to mention: “This critical double standard—that tormented, foul-mouthed, or perverse male characters are celebrated, while their female counterparts are primly dismissed as unlikeable—has been pointed out many times before.”
Yes, well, it’s that way in real life too.
You should read the piece for Messud’s response alone, but the other authors raise good points (though the panel lacks diversity; can you feel my Liz Lemon eye-roll?).
For the record, I don’t need to like a character to enjoy a book, and I would not want to be “friends” with Humbert Humbert. That said, I doubt he’d want to be friends with me. I’m not exactly his type.
(I am, however, BFFs with Harry, Hermione, and Ron. In case you were wondering.)