A Great Character

Chestnut and I were chatting the other day—we're both inveterate chatters—and I asked her what she was reading and she said, League of Pirates. Which turns out to be this.


I asked her how it was, and she said it was really fun. It has, she said, this one really great character, Claire. "I mean, she's just—she's just like a real person, she's someone you just want to know, you know what I mean?"

Of course I know what she means.

A little sleuthing showed me that Claire isn't the main character but rather a roommate, but of course it didn't solve the mystery of the great character. Because it can't be solved—it's like people. Who can say why one person wins us over and another doesn't? A person can have all these traits—smart, loyal, funny—but the traits are as nothing in the face of someone who, for whatever reason, compels us. Who plays on our heartstrings (ew, what an icky metaphor that is). With whom we are…simpatico.

And books are a whole other category. A book can be great, of course, without a great character (I think?) but when you have a great book with a great character—a Harriet the Spy, for instance—they you have achieved pure bliss.

It did make me want to read the book though.

So what do you think: can you have a great book without a great character? I'm thinking maybe A Little Princess? Or a character who just speaks to you?

6 thoughts on “A Great Character

  1. Hmm. As an adult, I really liked The Fountainhead, but I found all of the characters despicable. I consider that an oddball. I never thought about it but yes, I would say most good books need a likeable character, if not a great one.
    Interesting thought.


  2. Wait. A Little Princess? What about the sweet hearted dumb girl?
    There are some scary books by Edward St. Aubyn –the Patrick Wilson books –that are truly great books but who don’t have any “good” characters. As for children’s books, I can’t think of any!


  3. Hmm. “Interesting” doesn’t always grab my kids. Likeable, someone you root for, does. “Interesting,” does grab me, though.
    Maybe that is one difference between kid lit and adult lit. Kids (or my kids, sample size of 2), like good (as in morally good) characters or at least characters who think like them (morally conflicted, but honest).


  4. That in itself is interesting to me. Diana really likes villains, says they’re often more interesting. And they both like conflicted characters who struggle with what is right. I like the idea of it being about adult vs. kid lit. I wonder age groups too, and characters like Artemis Fowl—where do they fall?


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