Are the mad unlikeable characters?

How do you react to a character in fiction who is eccentric, far too out there or exhibits a cruel and irrational temper on the turn of a coin? Are you fascinated? Infuriated? Apprehensive? Do you read on or turn away?

The main character in my novel The Widow’s Tale is initially not very likeable. The story portrays her descent into madness as she confronts blocked memories of her sister’s mysterious death and her brutal role in her husband’s demise.

Yet as my sister-in-law, Kalash Thakor, said, ‘The picture of the mad woman is very clever because although Eustachia is not very likeable we do care about what happens to her so that when the court hearing goes her way there is relief, but she goes and makes another mess of things by being mad. Blanche, also, you want to have a good outcome and the dual narrative from their different perspectives made her character far more interesting.

I have to say some of Eustachia’s mad mutterings were familiar. Particularly the “what about me” rants! Also, I liked the way time moved in her head and that she only remembered certain things and the narrative in her head only touched on what is really happening around her. When you go off the rails, that is just what life is like.’

As in real life, if you go back far enough, you’ll find out why a character becomes who they are and why they do what they do.