It is time for Thoughtful Thursday and the bookish questions that pop up while I am reading. Please share your thoughts on the bookish question of the week. I am curious to hear what you have to say! There are no wrong answers. Alright, on to the question!
How do you feel about unreliable narrators?
According to Wikipedia:
"An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised. The term was coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction. The narrative mode can be developed for several reasons, sometimes to deceive the reader or audience. Most often unreliable narrators are first-person narrators, but sometimes third-person narrators can also be unreliable.
The nature of the narrator is sometimes immediately clear. For instance, a story may open with the narrator making a plainly false or delusional claim or admitting to being severely mentally ill, or the story itself may have a frame in which the narrator appears as a character, with clues to the character's unreliability. A more dramatic use of the device delays the revelation until near the story's end. This twist ending forces readers to reconsider their point of view and experience of the story. In some cases the narrator's unreliability is never fully revealed but only hinted at, leaving readers to wonder how much the narrator should be trusted and how the story should be interpreted.
An exception is an event that did not or could not happen, told within the fictionalized historical novels, speculative fiction, or clearly delineated dream sequences. Narrators describing them are not considered unreliable."
I had been planning to talk about unreliable narrators for today's post, because I had been thinking about a book that I read a few months ago that had an unreliable narrator. I had wanted to talk about how people feel about narrators lying to them and purposely leaving out information. This is still something that I want to discuss, but now I also want to discuss when the narrators are leaving out information but not for a deceitful reason, because I just finished Ancillary Justice (and this is an issue in the book).
Okay, first let's talk about narrators who are purposely leaving out information. I can think of two books off the top of my head that had narrators that lied to me, the reader, on purpose. One wanted to cover up a crime and another wanted me to believe that he was more competent at his job than he was (I am being vague on purpose just in case you end up reading these books in the future). Both times, I felt a bit giddy when the narrator was outed as unreliable. It was unexpected in both instances, and I really enjoyed the twist. Granted, if these narrators were my real friends, I would be really upset that they lied to me and not giddy. Although I enjoyed having an unreliable narrator in both instances, I don't think I would have felt so enamored if the authors used this "trick" a second time. I remember when I sat down to read the second book in a series that had an unreliable narrator in the first book. I was on edge the entire time. I kept waiting for it to happen again. Toward the end of the book there was a situation in which a narrator could have been shown to be unreliable. I remember being very upset and putting the book away. I didn't read the book for about two weeks. I was preemptively angry with the author for putting me in this situation. I desperately did not want the narrator to be a liar about this particular situation. Finally, the book was going to be due at the library soon, so I bit the bullet and decided to finish the book. Luckily, the situation worked itself out and everything was okay. The narrator was reliable. Thank goodness.
Honestly, as much as a I loved the unreliable narrator in these two books, I think I would be furious if the author used this narrator on a regular basis. The old phrase, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" keeps popping up in my head. I want to be fooled every once in a while, but I don't want to feel like a fool.
Alright, now let's talk about narrators who are not purposely trying to sneak one past you. In Ancillary Justice, Breq is a starship in a human body and doesn't typically use a gendered language. She refers to both men and women as women. Breq isn't trying to hide anything from the reader; however, the reader is still left in the dark about this. When I was reading this book, I thought it was rather clever that we were never sure of people's gender and thought it was a neat mechanic. Later though, I started to realize that I take for granted that all of my narrators, unless they are specifically outed as unreliable, are reliable. Now I am starting to wonder, if that trust is misplaced. Do most authors just write their narrators as truthful or is this a crazy assumption that I picked up at some point?
Your turn! What do you think about unreliable narrators? Hate them? Love them? Find them a tired old mechanic? What do you think about unreliable narrators like Breq who are not trying to be unreliable? Please do NOT mention the name of a book/author, if the unreliable narrator is a big part of the plot twist.