The assumption that as readers we necessarily must identify with some character in the story we are reading has been seriously questioned by contemporary literary theory. Children’s writers have successfully subverted identification by creating a variety of repulsive, unpleasant characters with whom no normal human being would want to identify.
– Maria Nikolajeva in The Rhetoric Of Character In Children’s Literature
There’s been quite a bit in the press this month about expectations of likability in novels for adults:
WOULD YOU WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH HUMBERT HUMBERT?: A FORUM ON “LIKEABILITY” from The New Yorker
Claire Messud to Publishers Weekly: “What kind of question is that?” Do you like Jonathan Franzen’s characters? David Foster Wallace’s? Roth? Then stop asking Claire Messud about hers, from Salon
And I do like the word ‘subversion’ in reference to some of the most popular fiction for children. I had two favourite authors as a child: One was Enid Blyton (for the fantasy) and the other was Roald Dahl. I have to admit, that was probably partly for the subversion of likable characters.