From Reedsy Blog: What is an Unreliable Narrator: Definition and Examples
Fiction that makes us question our own perceptions can be powerful. An unreliable narrator can create a lot of grey areas and blur the lines of reality, allowing us to come to our own conclusions.
Fallible storytellers can also create tension by keeping readers on their toes — wondering if there’s more under the surface, and reading between the lines to decipher what that is. Unreliable narrators can make for intriguing, complex characters: depending on the narrator’s motivation for clouding the truth, readers may also feel more compelled to keep reading to figure out why the narrator is hiding things.
The linked post pulls out three basic types of unreliable narrators:
–Deceptive because unable or unwilling to face the truth and therefore providing a slanted version of the story
–The narrator is just wrong about what is going on
I’m willing to accept those categories. Let me see. A handful of novels leap to mind when I think of unreliable narrators:
Chime by Franny Billingsley. The link goes to a review that I think is good, in the sense that I felt pretty much the same way about the book: I admired many things about it, but did not actually like it. I didn’t like the narrator — self-loathing is not my favorite characteristic in a narrator, and I thought it was SO clear that the stepmother was evil that I couldn’t help feeling that Briony ought to have figured that out well before she did. I realize that is not quite fair to Briony, but there it is. This would fit the second category.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind them All by Laura Ruby features a wonderfully unreliable ghost narrator. This also fits the second category, but, not sure why, I liked the book a good deal better. I was certainly shocked to find out the truth about certain things, even though Ruby totally played fair and after the fact I thought I should have caught on much faster than I did. Anyway, this story is rather grim, but not actually tragic.
A lot of books by Dorothy Dunnett have highly unreliable narrators, either because the first-person narrator is not mentioning something very, very important about herself (Dolly and the Singing Bird and Dolly and the Bird of Paradise) or because the third-person pov protagonists are just completely wrong about the opaque protagonist (Lymond series, Niccolo series). So the Dolly books feature the first type of unreliable narrator and the historicals feature the third type.
Elizabeth Wein brilliantly pulls of an unusual twist on the unreliable narrator in Code Name Verity. The link goes to Jacqueline Carey’s review of this book. Again, this is an example of the narrator being deliberately (very) deceptive.
What springs to mind for you when it comes to unreliable narrators?