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Old 10-10-2016, 03:45 PM
 
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I've noticed lately (when sorting my fiction books) that in recent years I've especially enjoyed books with the unreliable narrator. The narrator is either lying to the reader, or has some mental health problem or substance problem that interferes with seeing the whole story, remembering the whole story, or processing reality accurately. When it's done well, and not gimmicky, I find it a really gripping form of narrative.


One of the best I've read was Drood, by Dan Simmons. The narrator is 19th century author Wilkie Collins, who in in the midst of his drug addiction, complicated by paranoia, blackouts, and his intense obsession with his "frenemy" Charles Dickens. It's great historical fiction, and Simmons researched both Collins, Dickens, and both their works and relationship extensively, in order to weave a lot of historical accuracy into this psychological thriller. It's always hard to figure out what's real, what's a delusion or hallucination, or what happened when his memory blanked. Just typing about the book makes me want to read it again!


Other recent books I've read with unreliable narrators included:
Gone Girl
Girl on the Train
I'm Thinking of Ending Things


I noticed that some online articles include a whole lot of books, including many "classics" in the Unreliable Narrator category, but some seem to be stretching it. (Come on, Wuthering Heights? the Great Gatsby?) When I read a book with a narrator seeing things simply from his/her own perspective and not seeing that of others, I don't really put that into this category. I think I prefer the ones in which the narrator really has something "going on," whether with the truth, with mental health, or with being under the influence of something.


I think the first works I remember reading years ago in this category were the short stories "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" which were both narrated by people with deteriorating mental health conditions. I think I had to write a paper comparing the two of them in English 101.


I think I'm even drawn to this in TV and movies, though it's much easier for them to get gimmicky with it. The TV show Mr. Robot is an excellent example, a little reminiscent of the movie A Beautiful Mind. It was done well in Fight Club, but not as well in Identity. The Sixth Sense did it well, as did Mulholland Drive.


But back to books....
What are some good books you've read with an unreliable narrator? What makes the narrator unreliable (substance use, mental health condition, intentional lying, etc) Why do you recommend the books?
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Old 10-10-2016, 03:56 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh
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I wonder if you could consider the narrator of Emma Donaghue's Room as an unreliable narrator? It's a 5-year-old boy who doesn't really know or understand what's happening to him, so it's up to the reader to infer from what he describes. It's not that he's inherently untrustworthy, he's a sheltered child.

Last edited by fleetiebelle; 10-10-2016 at 04:04 PM..
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Old 10-10-2016, 04:00 PM
 
Location: Type 0.7 Kardashev
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An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
The plot revolves around a murder in Oxford in the 1660s. Several of the characters are historical figures, and there is much intrigue. The book is divided into four parts, each part by a different narrator describing the same events. But each narrator tells a different story. All four of them are unreliable narrators.
An Instance Of The Fingerpost · Iain Pears

I'll also toss out In The Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien and Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabakov. Both books also get creative with form, especially Nabakov's.
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Old 10-10-2016, 04:02 PM
 
Location: Living near our Nation's Capitol since 2010
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Oddly enough, I really like this trend. Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Room....all great examples. What absolutely riveting stories...I love the narrators, especially for their flaws.

Even Husband's Secret could fall into this category.
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Old 10-11-2016, 08:17 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fleetiebelle View Post
I wonder if you could consider the narrator of Emma Donaghue's Room as an unreliable narrator? It's a 5-year-old boy who doesn't really know or understand what's happening to him, so it's up to the reader to infer from what he describes. It's not that he's inherently untrustworthy, he's a sheltered child.
Yes, I definitely think Room qualifies. At least in the beginning of the book, we don't know his living circumstances, and we only have his very limited view to rely on, and we are a bit confused as to why things are the way he describes. Not a mental defect, but a perceptual one. But I think once he is enlightened (with some struggle) by his mom that there is a world out there and they need to escape, then he is no longer an unreliable narrator (at least to me).
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Old 10-11-2016, 02:31 PM
 
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The Bible!

LOL!
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Old 10-12-2016, 12:49 PM
 
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I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh could fall into this category I think. I know there are others but at the moment I can't bring them to mind.
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Old 10-13-2016, 10:05 PM
 
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You and Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes.

I will warn you though, they contain graphic language, and I have found that people either love them or hate them.
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Old 10-14-2016, 10:53 AM
 
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The Poison Artist by Jonathon Moore

https://www.amazon.com/Poison-Artist...+poison+artist

This book completely faked me out...and it's a great read.
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Old 10-21-2016, 11:11 PM
 
2,950 posts, read 4,855,123 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unsettomati View Post
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
The plot revolves around a murder in Oxford in the 1660s. Several of the characters are historical figures, and there is much intrigue. The book is divided into four parts, each part by a different narrator describing the same events. But each narrator tells a different story. All four of them are unreliable narrators.
An Instance Of The Fingerpost · Iain Pears

I'll also toss out In The Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien and Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabakov. Both books also get creative with form, especially Nabakov's.
Ditto Nabokov. Even moreso in his earlier Despair. (What's interesting is at this time in his career he got interested in writing in English. What's almost infuriating is this was a parody with some pretty funny passages, and he was able to write better than I ever could in an adopted language!)
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