Top Ten Tuesday: Unreliable Narrators


The topic of today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Books For Readers Who Like _________. I decided to fill in the blank today with unreliable narrators. I love unreliable narrators, particularly because I cannot write them. I’ve tried and I’ve tried, and whenever an author really pulls one off I get insanely jealous and yes, I love being jealous when I read. It inspires me to stretch my own skills.

To some extent you could argue that any first person narrator is an unreliable one, because it’s all about filtering things through their perspective. But there’s a difference between filtering through a POV and outright lying to the reader, and the latter are the type of books I’m going to try to recommend here.

115153281. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn- Nick and Amy Dunne

One of the main reasons I love Gone Girl is that Nick and Amy are both writers, and over the course of the book you can see them create various versions of themselves. It’s very tricky, and very deftly done.

2. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuck- The Narrator

I have to admit, I like the movie better. I’ve only read the book version of Fight Club once, and Palahniuck’s style isn’t really for me. If you don’t know the twist (and how don’t you?) I won’t give it away…but that is one damn unreliable narrator.

3. The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan- Imp

Mental illness adds a whole host of issues to this narrative. What is true, what is schizophrenic delusion, and what is deliberate falsehood? In the end, is there really a hard and fast line between reality and unreality?

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier- Mrs. de Winter

I think there are two ways to read Rebecca, one where the current Mrs. de Winter is as innocent as a spring lamb finding herself in a situation that soon goes over her head, and a much darker version where she schemes and plots to land her husband and is willing to do things for him that no otherwise rational person would do, including lie through her teeth.

5. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess- Alex

Over the course of this novel, Alex is either high or undergoing brainwashing and torture. Not exactly trustworthy.

6. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro- Stevens

This one may be the least intentional or malicious of the unreliable narrators on this list. Stevens lies to himself and it’s up to the reader to see between the lines. Ishiguro creates and incredibly subtle portrait of a man trying to hold on to a vanished way of life.

7. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell- Ava Bigtree

I think pretty much any child narrator is bound to be unreliable to some degree.

8. In the Woods by Tana French- Rob Ryan

Most of Tana French’s narrators are unreliable to a degree, but none more so than Rob, who deliberately lies to other characters and the reader throughout In the Woods, until his entire life story is a sad mess of half-truths.  

9. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein- The Narrator

I’m not even going to tell you her name, though she goes by a few of them. The way this book is crafted, and the way the narrator’s lies are revealed, is incredible.

10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner- Quentin Compson

The Sound and the Fury is a novel all about how people perceive events differently. I suppose all of the narrators could be considered unreliable to a degree–though I would argue that Benjy, being so tied to literal events, is the most “truthful” of them all. For most unreliable I look to Quentin. I adore Quentin Compson. In real life he would annoy the shit out of me, and I’d probably push him into the Charles river myself, but in literature: damn. His voice, his breakdown, is compelling stuff, and all of it is filtered through a severely fucked-up mind, and you can’t trust a word of it.

Doing some background research for this list, I found a ton of other books I haven’t read yet. There seem to be a thousand ways to do an unreliable narrator. Who are some of your favorites?



Filed under Book Talk

16 responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Unreliable Narrators

  1. That’s a really interesting idea. I like it a lot. A have another unreliable narrator for you – Quinn from Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney.
    Lynn 😀

  2. I love The Remains of the Day for its sweet, unreliable narrator. Great topic choice!

  3. What a great topic! Rebecca is fantastic, and I’m determined to cross Code Name Verity off my TBR this year. 🙂 I’ve heard some great things about Swamplandia!, too!

    • hlmorris85

      I have a review of Code Name Verity coming up and I’m a bit afraid it’s just going to consist of me flailing for a few paragraphs. It was So. Good. Swamplandia! is due for a reread for me.

  4. Great list, and I love that you made the distinction between unreliable and untrustworthy narrators. That’s a topic I have planned to cover on my blog (it’s on my to-write) list.

    • hlmorris85

      That’s a good term for it that I failed to think of! Untrustworthy, yes, one of my favorite things as a reader.

  5. I did unreliable narrators this week too! We agree on Gone Girl and Rebecca 😀 I haven’t read the others, but I’m adding them to my list! Here’s my TTT!

  6. Great list! I love a good unreliable narrator. Code Name Verity and Remains of the Day are both great picks.

  7. Interesting take on this week’s topic! I think I may have The Clockwork Orange on my TBR list. But for the most part I’ve never heard of some of these, I’ll have to check them out!

  8. I love unrealiable narrators! I either love or want to read just about all of your picks! I hadn’t heard of The Drowning Girl, but I’m looking into it now!

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