I'm reading a book with a truly irritating main character, but I'm sticking with it, largely because the character knows his behavior is awful and would like to change it, but finds himself trapped in the tarpit of his own inevitable awfulness. I suspect (in fact, I dearly hope!) this turns around by the end of the book. But it got me thinking about self-awareness and how vital it is to any book's characters.
I'm not identifying the book because it's a memoir, and the writer has real feelings, I presume, so I don't want to say exactly whose behavior is terrible. The important thing is that his shred of self-awareness is the very reason I haven't slammed the book shut and sent it back to the library. For most characters I read, I can tolerate almost any behavior or personality defect as long as they demonstrate some sense of how very wrong they are, and at least some gesture toward doing something about it. (Exception: unrepentant anti-heroes, but I'll tackle them in another post someday.)
It's a tricky dance, though. Too much awareness and the reader starts to think, "Well, geez Louise, if she knows just what the problem is, fix it already!" But she can't fix it immediately, because then there's no novel. There has to be a reason or a host of reasons why the character can't seem to get out of her problem, despite knowing what the problem is.
What about your characters? Have you written (or read) characters with little self-awareness who held your attention anyway?