Are women in fiction allowed to be unlikeable?

Not all female characters in literature should be empowering. The depiction of unlikeable female characters is important too explains Amy Lloydauthor of The Innocent Wife

Poor Samantha, the protagonist of The Innocent Wife, gets a lot of stick for being an unlikeable character. She’s got extremely low self-esteem and makes some terrible choices but this is why I found her so interesting to write. I don’t want characters that do exactly what they’re supposed to, what fun is that?!

When Sam and Carrie first meet in the novel they riff on the idea of what a ‘strong woman’ is. There’s a temptation to make every woman character in your novel a kind of role model, a feminist badass who we can all look up to. Or at least to make them ‘likeable’ (*shudder*), relatable and inoffensive.

I’m here to fly the flag for the deplorables. I say, let women be awful too! Aren’t we all a little awful sometimes?

Male characters are allowed to be flawed but we hold women in fiction to a different standard. Take, for example, the way Hannibal Lecter was received when Silence of the Lambs was in cinemas. Some audiences applauded each time he appeared on screen. They revelled in his evil; they loved to be afraid of him.

Compare that to reactions to Amy in Gone Girl. I’ve seen her character called misogynistic and misandrist, depending on which Reddit forum you’re looking at. My own reaction to Amy was one of excitement. ‘Finally!’ I thought, ‘now women can be real villains too. Not an evil stepmother or a Lifetime movie mistress but a bon-a-fide psychopath just out there doing her thing. Progress!’

So I was dismayed to see so many think-pieces devoted to analysing how her character reflects on all women. We accept that Hannibal Lecter is an evil character and we celebrate him but we are afraid to do the same for Amy because, as a woman, she is representative of her gender as a whole.

'I’m here to fly the flag for the deplorables. I say, let women be awful too! Aren’t we all a little awful sometimes?'

I’ve always found it fun to not like characters in fiction. I like to feel conflicted, frustrated by a protagonist’s flaws and to follow a murderer or a liar down the wrong path. I read so I can live different lives and have alternate experiences, so this was also how I wanted to approach writing. It would be easy to dismiss Sam as weak or pathetic but she’s more complicated than that. Many people have said that there are moments where they related to her and those moments reminded them of when they were their worst selves.

We meet Samantha at a low point in her life. She is broken after a terrible relationship and she’s taken a huge leap that she’s not entirely confident in and this is what makes her so vulnerable and why she allows herself to be treated so badly by Dennis. This is hard to accept and it should be! We want her to find her strength and stick up for herself but will she? Or is there something more sinister about her motivations…

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More about the author

The Innocent Wife

Amy Lloyd

HOW DO YOU CONFRONT YOUR HUSBAND WHEN YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE TRUTH? Gripping psychological suspense from a brilliant new voice in crime fiction.


'This book had me hooked from the first page to the last. The growing sense of unease as Samantha starts to realise that the man she married is not the man of her fantasies is brilliantly executed. I felt every moment of her discomfort, hurt and fear. And Dennis Danson is one of the creepiest, most convincing psychopaths I have ever read about. An absolutely superb debut.' Lisa Jewell

‘Looking for a brand new author? Brit @amylloydwrites won the Daily Mail’s first novel contest with The Innocent Wife. Woman marries a man on death row. Then things get scary. Ending a total shock. Superb psychological suspense.’ Lisa Gardner

'You can hear the ominous music from the first line onward - this is a fantastic thriller.' Lee Child

'An original, assured and compelling tale of obsession. Amy Lloyd is a startling new talent, destined to become a big name.' Peter James

'If you're an addict of true crime documentaries, you will binge all night on The Innocent Wife. In this breathless, pounding ride, Amy Lloyd keeps us guessing about a convicted killer thrust into the world as innocent online hero and the woman who begins to reluctantly dig into his murky past.’ Julia Heaberlin, author of Black Eyed Susans

'I read The Innocent Wife in one sitting - a deliciously wry and dark exploration of fascinating subject matter that will keep you guessing until the last page. Amy Lloyd is a fresh and original new voice in thriller writing who deserves to go straight to the top.' - Sarah Pinborough author of Behind Her Eyes

'Loved The Innocent Wife! Dark, twisted and compelling. Kept me guessing and totally gripped! 5 stars’ CJ Tudor, author of The Chalk Man

The Innocent Wife is a stunner that leads the reader down a twisty path to a surprising, yet satisfying conclusion. You won't be able to stop turning the pages!’ --Karen Dionne, author of The Marsh King's Daughter

'I devoured The Innocent Wife in one sitting! A unique setting, deeply flawed characters, a crackling mystery, and an unexpected ending make this a must-read!' Hollie Overton, author of Baby Doll.


Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl in Florida's Red River County. Now he's the subject of a true-crime documentary that's whipping up a frenzy online to uncover the truth and free a man who has been wrongly convicted.

A thousand miles away in England, Samantha is obsessed with Dennis's case. She exchanges letters with him, and is quickly won over by his apparent charm and kindness to her. Soon she has left her old life behind to marry him and campaign for his release.

But when the campaign is successful and Dennis is freed, Sam begins to discover new details that suggest he may not be quite so innocent after all.

But how do you confront your husband when you don't want to know the truth?

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