the Little Red Reviewer

Great book! Annoying protagonist. Lunch is important!

Posted on: September 19, 2021

I recently finished a book that I really enjoyed. I whipped through it, thought the idea and approach was great, was pleasantly surprised by a few plot twists.

But something about the main character annoyed the hell out of me.

I’m not going to say the name of the book or the name of the author, because this blog post is not a hit piece on either the author or the book. Let me say that again for those in the back row: this blog post is NOT A HIT PEICE on a specific author or a specific book.

This blog post is about a personality trait of a fictional character that annoyed me, and I’m sure this type of character shows up in plenty of books, and maybe other people are annoyed by this as well. What’s really frustrating for me, is that the character’s annoying personality trait made the rest of the plot work. Her annoying personality trait was overused as a plot device, and her annoying personality trait is something that is usually prized in people.

What was her annoying personality trait, you ask?

She was polite and selfless, and overly kind to overly needy and lonely people.

Allow me explain.

In the novel I won’t be naming, the protagonist politely listens to other people, all the time. When a lonely person says “can I just tell you one more thing?” she nods and listens. When another side character simply will not shut up even though the protagonist is late for another obligation, she patiently listens while they ramble on for another hour, and is willing to miss her other obligation entirely. It’s a great plot device, she misses many important phone calls because she refuses to tell anyone to shut up (the novel takes place in the land before cellphones). The protagonist is also so, so, so terrible at planning. No restaurants near her workplace? Does she bring lunch? Of course she doesn’t, so she ends up working through lunch and dinner and then nearly passing out from hunger. What, because packing a sandwich, or having a box of granola bars in your desk drawer is so terrible or impossible? does this town not have a grocery store? Another plot device, that a side character is smart enough to have snacks handy. The protagonist is a researcher, someone at the top of her field, but she can’t figure out how pack a lunch?

It started to grind on me, If you can’t tell, that this woman was so polite, and so selfless, that she simply could not, or would not do anything to show value to her own self. She wouldn’t tell people no, she allowed herself to be surrounded by needy people, she wouldn’t leave work at a decent time so she could go to the grocery store after work, she wouldn’t pack a lunch to sustain herself. It really started to piss me off!

And we value politeness, don’t we? We value selflessness, don’t we? It’s considered the height of rudeness to tell someone “hey, I know this thing you want to tell me super important to you, and I know you are lonely, but now isn’t a good time for me”. We show we care about people by listening to them. And this protagonist, she was the epitome of that.

It pissed me off that she showed so little caring for herself. No one else in the story seemed to care much about her either, if they had they would have bought her an insulated lunch bag and made her leave work early one day (no one was going to die if she took an afternoon off, I promise) to go to the fucking grocery store and buy lunch stuff and learn how to make a damn peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (surprising no one, lunch is really, REALLY important to me)

Was it her choice to live her life however she pleased? Sure is. Did her personality traits make for perfect plot devices? Yup. If it wasn’t for her personality trains of being overly-polite and never saying no to needy people, the novel would have been 150 pages long instead of 500-ish pages.

She can be whatever kind of protagonist she wants, and I can be annoyed by her.

And yet, it was a damn good book by a brilliant author. Likely a book I’ll read again one day. She did actually get a chance to rest at the end, so I guess that’s good, even though having a chance to take it easy wasn’t a lifestyle she was used to.

Your turn – what character personality traits annoy you? Ever read a freakin’ fantastic book, but been hella annoyed by the main character? I’m not looking to shit on anyone’s parade or harsh anyone’s squee, so feel free to omit book titles or author names in the comments.

6 Responses to "Great book! Annoying protagonist. Lunch is important!"

Personality traits that annoy me in particular – the people/family/couple who don’t discuss what’s going on – they’re going to talk about it later – and then everything goes to hell in a handcart because nobody had that important discussion. Another trait that annoys me is when a character constantly blames themselves for everything that goes on around them – it’s a bit egotistical really and it steals other peoples’ contributions to whatever is taking place. Rant over.
Lynn 😀
How you doing – how’s your lovely house??

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Yes! just take 10 minutes and have that important discussion! will save so much confusion later. and yes! taking credit for everything being you fault and taking the blame i think that is just as egotistical as taking credit when everything goes right. excellent rant!

i’m doing. . . busy. House is glorious, and lots of satisfying work. It’s wonderful every day to look into the backyard and be able to say “that’s mine and I can enjoy it any time I want”. I love watching the birds and all the wildlife, finally saw some deer.

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I get annoyed by selfless characters too – for one thing, they just don’t feel realistic, though I know people who are pretty selfless at some cost to themselves and their loved ones. It seems like this author hasn’t fleshed out this character well. I would also be annoyed by a character that doesn’t plan things like meals. I like a book with a lot of attention to detail, and I’m not someone who can just skip meals. A book doesn’t need to focus on that but shouldn’t ignore it altogether.

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hmm.. . . now that I really think more about it, some of my favorite scenes in books have centered around meals. the meal isn’t the focus, but the meal is happening while the important stuff is happening, and there are some details about what they are eating or dishes that are being prepared. I love that kind of detail!! just can’t relate to a character who doesn’t think lunch is important.

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I couldn’t agree more! Lunch is important. And I agree with Curlygeek too. An author should make sure that fictional characters take care of the details of life just like real people.

It’s not lunch, but I always get upset at authors who give their heroines pets, and then never show the character taking care of the pet. Dogs don’t get walkies. Cats don’t get fed regularly. And then oopsie, the heroine has to go out of town unexpectedly and her FIRST thought isn’t pet care. Why do authors do this?

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Yes!! i love it when the protagonist has a pet, and the author makes the pet important. Protag sees something cool . . . because they were out walking their dog! or they are enjoying a bowl of ice cream and of course they give the cat a little bit. my fave is when pets are judgy of other characters – the cat who hates everyone jumps on someone’s lap and starts purring, or hisses at the person is who is secretly is a total jerk.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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