I've done several google searches and can't find any good advice about this on the internet so I'm just going to collect my thoughts and write my own. Because I cannot be the only person that's having this issue.
You know the one. The friend that pops up and goes "Oh I love your work" but doesn't have anything specific to say about it? Or they pull something specific but they have it so far off the mark that you know they weren't holding the same manuscript? Like they tell you their favorite character and you're like 'really?' because he dies five minutes into the story and it's abundantly clear they only actually read chapter 1?
Yeah, unfortunately that's going to happen sometimes.
There's an order of operations here, and a couple of options. because typically it's going to be the same person doing it repeatedly.
Option One: Call Them On It
They aren't going to like this. They are going to get miffed. You might have a fight. They might say 'how dare you' and insist that they did, in fact, read it.
They might also fess up and apologize.
I'd suggest doing this once. Just ask. 'Did you actually read it?'. Most people will crack and admit that they didn't and you can get on with your lives. Of course, some of them won't. And at that point whether or not you want to push the issue is directly connected to how badly you want to keep that friendship.
Option Two: Ignore It
Yeah, I'm pretty sure you've already come to this conclusion yourself. I mean, you know they didn't read it so you know to ignore their feedback anyway, right? But when this person is someone who wants to act important they might try to give you advice about it anyway and you could find yourself thinking 'oh god, what if they try to give this bad advice to a writer who doesn't realize they didn't read the book and they actually take it'.
Don't worry about that. People have a good sense for this. They'll know.
At this point your friend obviously wants their supportive friend cookie without having to put the work in. So just pat them on the back once and get back to what you were doing.
Option Three: Take it For What It Is
This isn't going to work if they know absolutely nothing about the book, but if you have a skimmer on your hands, or a One Chapter Wonder, that can actually still be useful to you. So he read chapter one and really liked the character that died five minutes in; he probably didn't really like that character he probably just thought from narrative cues that this guy was going to last longer and be a major player.
Own that. Either make the death a gut punch or consider changing the framework around him so he looks like the supporting red shirt that he is.
It's a difficult situation to be in, totally. After all, you don't want to hurt your friend's feelings as much as this behavior is probably getting under your skin. But what you need to realize is your friend probably doesn't want to hurt yours either and doesn't want to look like a bad friend for not reading your book. And also probably somehow doesn't realize you're familiar enough with your own work that you can tell they're lying to you.
Some people just don't get how much work goes into writing a novel. Think about everyone in your life that's said "I might write a novel, I could use the extra cash". Yeah, those people exist. And those people obviously don't understand how this works. "I'm going to pretend to read this" friend is one of those.
Megan R. Miller