What's Not to Like? On "Unlikeable" Characters in Contemporary Fiction

Wednesday May 28, 2014
02:00 pm

Tags: Event









The National Book Critics Circle presents a panel on "unlikeable" characters in contemporary fiction, featuring Zoë Heller, Elissa Schappell, J. Courtney Sullivan, and moderator Carmela Ciuraru.


The issue of whether characters in fiction should be likeable - and readers' and reviewers' resistance to unlikable characters - has gotten a lot of attention this year; especially, it seems, in regard to fiction written by women. What obligation, if any, do writers have toward their readers in creating sympathetic characters? How does "likeability" affect the writing of criticism, if at all? What is the role of empathy in fiction? Is it problematic or reasonable to read with the expectation of "identifying" or "relating to" the characters we encounter? What's so bad about a happy ending?




  Zoë Heller is the author of three novels: Everything You Know, Notes on a Scandal (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and adapted for film), and The Believers. She has written features and criticism for a wide range of publications, including The New Yorker, The New Republic and The New York Review of Books.
Elissa Schappell is a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. She is co-founder and editor at large of Tin House, as well as the author of two story collections: Blueprints for Building Better Girl and Use Me. She is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Commencement, Maine, and The Engagements. Courtney’s writing has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, New York magazine, Elle, Glamour, Allure, Real Simple, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among many others. She is a co-editor, with Courtney Martin, of the essay anthology Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists.
Carmela Ciuraru (moderator) is a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. She is the author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms, and has edited a number of poetry anthologies for Alfred A. Knopf. She writes the "Newly Released" Books column for the New York Times. Her next book is forthcoming from HarperCollins in 2016.