Kinds of unreliable narrators (No they are all not the same!)

Not too long ago, I shared about my love for unreliable narrators in fiction and I even came out with a list. But recently I had a discussion about these narrators and I realized some of my friends had pretty serious opinions about them as well. And not everyone loves them. Shocking!!

It was for me, at least. I mean what is there to not like in them, right? RIGHT?

unreliable narrators

Well, my so called friends (am seriously reconsidering my allies here!) gave me bunch of reasons, which I begrudgingly have to accept that the unreliable narrators might not be for everyone. But I am sure there is at least one kind of unreliable narrator that each of us like. They are not all the same!!!

Kinds of unreliable narrators

Yes today I am gonna talk about the kinds of unreliable narrators that we usually find in fictional world and why they are so important in their books. Ready for the ride?

Unreliable narrators that are naive

Okay not totally naive but they can’t help it. For some reason they are not fully aware of what is happening to/around them, maybe by their own doing or not. 

Let us talk about the kinds of #unreliablenarrators that we usually find in fictional world and why they are so important in their books. Ready for the ride? Click To Tweet

For example, Jack from the Room was inside the shed for years before he was broken out and seeing the world with the innocence of a young boy is definitely not reliable. 

unreliable narrators

Unreliable narrators whose perception is misleading

There are many characters that fall into this category in the recent times. Christopher Boone from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, for instance, cannot be taken his face value, as he lies in the Asperger’s / Autistic spectrum and his understanding of things is quite literal and lacks depth.

Patrick Peoples from The Silver Linings Playbook and Charlie from the Perks of being a wallpaper have repressed memories, while Rachel from the girl on the train has been under the influence of alcohol almost the entire time of the story.

unreliable narrators

And these books largely depend on these narrators and otherwise would have been another run of the mill novel.

These books largely depend on these #unreliablenarrators and otherwise would have been another run of the mill novel. RIGHT? Click To Tweet

Unreliable narrators that hold back information

Omitting to state the facts is also kinda lying, of course. But Eva does that so well in We need to talk about Kevin. The whole books is written in the form of letters to her estranged husband and she talks about everything but why Kevin did what he did (mass shooting at his school) and if she did enough to prevent that from happening.

unreliable narrators

I recently read Woman in the Window for my book club and found that Dr Anna Fox holds back a lot from others and the reader as well. Well, on a happier note that backfires right at her and that plays so well into holding the suspense to the story.

Unreliable narrators that outright lie and manipulate

These are my favorite kind of unreliable narrators. Man, they toy with us and mislead us perfectly into their trap without breaking a sweat. Take Patrick from American Psycho, he is suave, well read and smart and he commits gruesome murders with a finesse (or not!). His unreliability is the only thing that left us questioning the reality at the end.

unreliable narrators

I love Gone Girl and I adore Gillian Flynn‘s writing and her unreliable characters (yes there are many). Nick and Amy seem sincere and innocent until we start unraveling their traps and deceit. I mean talk about the plot twists these unreliable narrators provide. 

Final words

Yes, they misrepresent facts, break our trusts and some time lie to our faces even. But so what? 

unreliable narrators

I mean what narrator is truly objective and trustworthy, they all talk about the things they believe are true. So what if these narrators add a bit of bias, color the truth or even hold stuff back from the reader. They are amazing as their lying conniving selves they can be, to me! 

Read my list of Top Ten Unreliable Narrators That I Love  here!

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unreliable narrators

Let us chat

Do you like unreliable narrators? Who are your favorites? What type of unreliability do they bring in? Let us talk.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I LOVE unrealistic narrators.

    Rachel in Girl on the Train also has her perception warped by gaslighting, which is an important factor in the story.

    We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is an amazing unreliable narrator story. A film is coming out next month starring Taissa Farmigna, Alexandra Daddario, and Sebastian Stan. I’m beyond excited.

  2. I feel like that’s exactly the charm of the misleading unreliable narrators – we know from the start we cannot really trust them, which makes the book a lot of fun (at least for me)…

    And although I enjoy unreliable narrators, if it weren’t for the audiobook I am convinced I might have never read Room (I tried and failed and then got the audiobook and loved the book), and I could not stand Gone Girl, the book (but I loved the film). I cannot exactly explain why, but I simply did not like that book – or those narrators!
    Andreea recently posted…Events: Giselle (and My Newest Obsession)My Profile

  3. I love books with unreliable narrators and the manipulating type is definitely my favourite but I can understand why some people don’t like them, after all, they are misleading and no body likes to get misled!!

    Fantastic post!!

  4. This was a really interesting breakdown for me, because although I read many of the books you referenced, I never thought of the differences between them as unreliable narrators. Those manipulative ones are the ones that always get me.

  5. This is fascinating! If you think about it, even Elizabeth Bennet and Harry Potter are unreliable narrators, because we see things only from their POV and they can be biased against characters or just straight up oblivious. And that can make for a really good story as they grow and learn.

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