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10 Books With An Unreliable Narrator

There is something very unsettling about discovering that all is not well with the narrator of the book that you are reading. In some books, the narration duties fall to one of the main characters, while in others a third party tells the story. As readers, we are so used to believing what the narrator tells us that it can be quite a shock to find that the person who is supposed to explain everything and helps us to make sense of what is going on, is unreliable. Check out the following ten books featuring a narrator that cannot always be trusted.

1. We Have Always Lived in the Castle

by Shirley Jackson

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood is the narrator of this classic, macabre tale of the Blackwood family. Merricat lives in seclusion with her older sister and uncle in the house where the rest of the family were murdered with poison. After years of isolation, the family is visited by Charles, their estranged cousin -- but what are his real motivations?

2. Spider

by Patrick McGrath

Dennis “Spider” Clegg narrates this tale of madness and delusion. Spider spent 20 years confined to a mental hospital and is convinced that his father killed his mother. However, thanks to his mental condition, which continues to worsen over the course of the book, it becomes harder to discern what is real and what is not.

3. Glamorama

by Bret Easton Ellis

Author Bret Easton Ellis has already established a knack for fascinating, but unreliable narrators with his book American Psycho and Glamorama continues this trend. In this book the narrator is Victor Ward, a model who lives a glamorous lifestyle in New York. However, after being recruited by a mysterious figure to track down someone, things begin to spiral out of control.

4. Book of the New Sun

by Gene Wolfe

Severian is a torturer who falls in love with one of his victims and is subsequently exiled from his guild. This prompts him to make a journey to a distant city armed with only his ancient sword. This tale is set on Earth, millions of years after our present culture, which makes for weird and wonderful reading. Unfortunately, Severian is also a liar, which makes him a very unreliable narrator.

5. Pale Fire

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov gained notoriety with his novel, Lolita, but many consider Pale Fire to be his real masterpiece. The book contains a poem written by the fictional John Sade, along with a forword and commentary written by the fictional Charles Kinbote. It is a strange, but interesting way of telling a tale, but very effective. The fact that Kinbote is slightly deranged makes it even more fascinating.

6. Bad Monkeys

by Matt Ruff

Jane Charlotte claims to be a member of The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons. At least that is what she claims after being arrested and has to tell her tale to a psychotherapist in jail. For a fast paced thriller with a narrator that is as unreliable as she is intriguing Bad Monkeys is required reading.

7. Baudolino

by Umburto Eco

During the sack of Constantinople a man named Baudolino saves the historian Niketas and then proceeds to tell him his life story while the two are in hiding. According to Baudolino he was present and a major player in almost every historical event as well as a few you won’t find in any history book. Baudolino’s adventures become more and more outrageous as the tale progresses, although he insists that it is all the truth.

8. Debt to Pleasure

by John Lanchester

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At first glance the narrator of Debt to Pleasure, Tarquin Wincot, appears to be nothing more than an egotistical and pretentious food critic who is travelling around to write his cookbook. However, it soon becomes clear that the narrator is not exactly truthful about his motivations and might in fact be hiding a much darker story from the readers.

9. You

by Caroline Kepnes

Social media has become an integral part of our lives, which is something You by Caroline Kepnes explores. The narrator is Joe Goldberg, a young man who works in a bookstore. Joe is fascinated by Guinevere Beck, an aspiring writer who visits the shop. After tracking her down via social media Joe begins the process of making himself a part of her life. The book has been called a mad and macabre love story by some critics and makes for compulsive reading.

10. Woman on the Edge of Time

by Marge Piercy

Consuelo “Connie “Ramos, the narrator of Woman on the Edge of Time, may or may not be an unreliable author. She is after all recommitted to a mental institution against her will by her niece’s pimp after she stood up to him. She also spends a lot of time heavily drugged, which lead some to question her tales of communicating with people from the future.

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