Old School Wednesdays

Old School Wednesdays Flashback: The Unreliable Narrators Edition

Old School Wednesdays presents a new flashback feature in which we Book Smugglers reflect on a new topic or theme in popgeekdom.

Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

I recently read the mega-bestseller-soon-to-be-a-movie thriller The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and one of its main features is the unreliable narrative. While I am still ruminating about that book in order to write my thoughts on it, I started thinking about some of my favourite books featuring unreliable narratives for this edition of Old School Wednesdays.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

liar

Liar by Justine Larbalestier is still a strong contender for my top mind-bender of a book. It’s been years since I first read it and I still don’t know exactly what went down with that book.

Micah – the main character and narrator – opens the story by telling us that she is a compulsive liar, only this time, she is going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Do you believe Micah or not? It’s brilliant exactly because of that: that book is the most give-and-take experience I’ve ever had with a book and each reader will read it in their own unique way. Liar is psychological thriller at its best and still one of my favourite YA novels of all time.

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Chime

Another book that remains a favourite after so many years and one I hold up as one of the finest YA novels I’ve read, is Chime by Franny Billingsley. It is a gorgeously written novel with feminism running through its very veins.

Bryony is an unreliable narrator and it’s a double unreliability: there are things she isn’t telling us but only because of the stories she believes about herself. It’s about internalised narratives, lies that become truths because of how we believe them and one wicked girl that isn’t wicked at all. Plus, swoon-worthy romance.

The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

The Queen's Thief Series

I saved the best for last, because of course my favourite novels featuring sleight-of-hand, unreliable narratives are The Queen’s Thief novels by Megan Whalen Turner. The first book, The Thief, is the only one with a first person narration and it features our lord and master unreliable narrator Eugenides, the main character of the series. It’s not that Eugenides lies, it is more about the way that he tells the truth. Each book has a different narrative viewpoint, a different focus, but all of them have unreliable narratives because of how they are focused: smoke and mirrors, a character who has to protect her kingdom so much, she can’t be truthful not even inside her head; or a character who has his biases and applies them when telling his own story and so on and so forth. These books are beloved to me because they are so smart, full of heart and filled to the brim with unforgettable characters.

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So there you have it! How do you feel about unreliable narrators? Do you have recommended reads for moi?

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3 Comments

  • Rae
    July 14, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    I only just found the Queen’s Theif series and I’m still a little upset with myself for leaving it so long – I can remember picking up the Queen of Attolia when I was in high school, and putting it back down because of that thing that happens.

    Another unreliable narrator: Amelia Peabody by Elizabeth Peters. Feminist Egyptologist and detective whose books take her from the ages of 30-something to 70-ish. She’s… opinionated. On the reread I ended up starting a new Tumblr tag called #amelia why are you lying to me…

  • Tiffany M.
    July 16, 2016 at 5:10 am

    Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman is a book I read a few years ago, and I loved the narrator.
    Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready is also a book with an unreliable narrator.

  • Gabi
    July 22, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    I love Megan Whalen Turner! You don’t have the fourth book pictured there . . . were you not including it on purpose? It’s my least favorite, though I like it a little better now than when I first read it. I’m curious what you think.

    “Madapple” by Christina Meldrum is another story with an unreliable narrator. It intersperses trial transcripts with the narrative, which plays with the perception of truth in really interesting ways. It’s one of those books I think about every so often even though it’s been so long since I read it.

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