When Hating the Main Character is Okay

I recently read two books: ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson (prompted by his recent visit to the Borders…or was it Barnes & Noble…near Water Tower Place in Chicago, at which point I was reminded of how awesome steampunk is), and ‘Half a Life’ by V.S. Naipaul (trying to brush up on my non-Japanese Asian authors:next destination, Africa!).


Spoiler Alert: I’ll do my best to avoid them, but if you want to remain in complete ignorance of the plots and characters you shouldn’t read this.


In both these books, I found the main character (and, in the case of ‘Half A Life’, both main characters) intolerably stupid. There’s Case with his constant drugseeking and missing the obviousing (as for his mad cowboy skills…savantism, perhaps?); then there’s Willie and his father who plod through life and make decisions they themselves hate but attribute to, well, everything but their own stultatory natures.

Aaargh! I have nothing against asshole main characters, but when they’re oblivious to their own flaws/the flaws of their environments causing them to be unhappy with their lives…stupidity is my least favorite human trait, and I’ll go ahead and reforce my awful elitism by deploring its commonality. (Note: I don’t mind foolish characters when it’s used for humorous effect or it has some kind of driving goal that isn’t self-destruction they then bitch about, cough Case’s withdrawal…okay fine. There are lots of exceptions to every rule.)


Cough, cough.

Well, I still liked ‘Neuromancer’. It’s a clever plot in a clever world with all sorts of interesting sideplots. Finding all the supporting characters more interesting than the main one was only a minor drawback, and at some point I do intend to read more of Gibson’s books.

‘Half A Life’, on the other hand–apart from the stupidity, why was Willie so boring? Sexual this, sexual that–and in the meantime everyone else had these awesome adventures I wanted to hear more about! But it just went on and on about how sexually frustrated Indians are, especially the males…oh my god…. (Note: I am Indian. I’m good at not applying things to my parents, but that didn’t make this entire thing any less WTF. What country started Tantric again, seriously?)


Anyway. I’m sure it’s sometimes a deliberate move, and as these authors are both quite famous it’s clearly not a problem. I myself don’t want a sweet little main character to pity, or a Mary Sue to envy–someone human, but the kind of person I’d want to have a conversation with, would be ideal.

And when that isn’t available, I’ll settle for a fantastic plot, setting, and sidecast. 😀


(Main character issues are going to come up again. Be warned. ;)

And because I never emphasize this enough, and often forget people aren’t as egotistical as to share their own opinions whenever they have them, tell me what you think! I love the random debate across the series of tubes.


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