Feature

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?
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'This book had me hooked from the first page to the last.’ Lisa Jewell
NOW A TOP TEN BESTSELLER
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You're in love with a man on Death Row in Florida, convicted of a brutal murder twenty years ago.

You're convinced he didn’t do it, and you're determined to prove it.

Now you're married to him, and he’s a free man, his conviction overturned.

You’re overjoyed. After all, he’s innocent.

Isn’t he?
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Amy's readers are raving about the book they 'just couldn't put down':

“I picked up The Innocent Wife this morning on my subway commute to work and couldn't put it down! I read it during my lunch break, commute home, on the stair master… It was just that addicting!

“Absolutely fantastic book… couldn’t put it down

“a superb rendering of sustained storytelling that grips you from the off

“I read the book in two days, couldn't wait to find out what happened next

Fantastic, gripping, page turning… Drew you in and kept you there until the very end”

“A fantastic debut! … It gets you hooked from the very beginning, and yet it's never predictable, you're in for some surprises until the very last page”

The Innocent Wife was gripping. I read with heart racing”

I literally couldn't wait to steal five minutes with it during the day and loved my evenings completely immersed in the tension”

“I couldn't put this down… thriller fans, you're in for a treat

complex and fascinating… very clever and very well executed”

“original and utterly compelling … I honestly feel bereft now that I've finished it and can't wait to spend 2018 talking about this fantastic novel”

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