I would say the comment I receive most frequently about The Innocent Wife is that Samantha got on a reader’s nerves. She’s been called insipid, charmless and annoying. People say, ‘I just couldn’t relate to her at all.’ My inward response is often, ‘So what?’
There are plenty of male characters to whom I couldn’t relate. I didn’t see myself in Patrick Bateman or Humbert Humbert but I still enjoyed American Psycho and Lolita. Do we hold female characters to different standards than to their male counterparts?
Perhaps the problem isn’t so much that Sam is simply unlikable, but that she is weak. We like our female characters to be strong, even if they don’t comply with a strict moral code. But in Sam we have a very dependent and insecure woman, who also doesn’t happen to be particularly moral.
Sam is a very frustrating character who never does what we want her do, but for me that’s part of the fun of it. I enjoy watching a character make terrible decisions that I would never make and to travel paths I wouldn’t take. It’s an exercise in empathy for me. Can I understand someone even if I feel completely differently to them?
Social media has allowed us to prune our social circles in a way like never before. We can mute, block and follow people based on their political preferences and the way in which they represent themselves online. This, as we know, can lead to a kind of tribalism, where we retreat into our preferred social groups in which we only see reflections of ourselves and hear the things we want to hear. Has this affected our ability to empathise with people who don’t think or behave as we would?
I sometimes look through reviews of books I loved. I go to the one-star and two-star reviews because it helps me realise that every book, even great ones, have some haters.
Again, the number one criticism I see is that the characters weren’t ‘relatable’ or ‘likeable’ enough.
I personally can’t imagine anything as boring as reading a book about someone just like me. I know that, for one thing, I would never write to a man on Death Row. I certainly wouldn’t fly to Florida to meet him and I definitely wouldn’t marry him. That sounds like bad news. Fair play to Sam for being interesting and making interesting things happen, I say. If she annoys you, well, at least she made you feel something.
Amy Lloyd is the author of The Innocent Wife, out now in paperback (£7.99). The Innocent Wife is also part of the current Richard and Judy WHSmith Book Club (available at all local WHSmiths).