Top Ten Books For People Who Like Unreliable Narrators

Top Ten Tuesday

Unreliable narrators can be a bit of a hit or miss for me. Sometimes, the narrator’s unreliability adds an additional dimension to the story and makes it more interesting and fun to read. Other times, it’s just annoying. Here are a bunch of good unreliable-narrator stories for you to check out!

  1. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson. Eleanor, a shy recluse who resents having had to care for her invalid mother until her death, jumps at the chance to be a research assistant in a potentially haunted house. But could the supernatural phenomena that go on at Hill House be in Eleanor’s mind? You decide.
  1. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn. Both narrators of this story are ridiculously unreliable: Nick is the consummate liar and Amy is pretty much just batshit insane. They’re both terrible people who, frankly, get what they deserve in the end: each other.
  1. The Dinner – Herman Koch. You’d probably be unreliable too if you were trying to decide what to do about the terrible crime your son and his friend committed. But this narrator in particular also has some demons that have nothing to do with his son’s crime.
  1. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins. From the very beginning, we know Rachel is a liar—but that’s not the only reason she’s an unreliable narrator: she’s also an alcoholic, whose memories are questionable at best on a good day, as well as a deeply sad woman who wants desperately to be needed. Everything she does, she does primarily for herself—which makes for really intriguing narration!
  1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov. How could a grown man narrating his love affair with a 12-year-old girl not be an unreliable narrator? I read this last spring and it was just…wow.
  1. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski. In House of Leaves you get half a dozen unreliable narrators for the price of one! First, you have Zampano, who writes a book about a documentary called The Navidson Record that doesn’t actually exist, including hundreds of footnotes most of which don’t exist either. Then you have Johnny, who attempts to pull the manuscript together and slowly goes insane while doing so—but you don’t quite notice at first, and so you begin to wonder how much of his story is true and how much of it is a figment of his imagination? And then you have the editors, who only pop up once in a while, but who’s to say they’re not all in on the conspiracy as well?? Finally, there’s Johnny’s mother and the Whalestoe letters, which you really just have to read for yourself.
  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky. Our narrator, Charlie, is plagued by normal teenage angst as well as some unsavory demons he’s been trying to suppress. His unreliability stems from his refusal to face those demons until, late in the book, he suffers a mental break that lands him in a psych ward.
  1. Room – Emma Donoghue. Unlike many of these other books, Room’s narrator, Jack, isn’t unreliable because he’s a liar or mentally ill; he’s unreliable because he’s five years old and has spent the entirety of his life in a single 11’x11’ room, believing that the outside world he sees on TV is entirely fictional.
  1. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier. Like Jack, Mrs. de Winter is neither a liar nor is she mentally ill; she merely suffers from an extreme lack of self-esteem. From the very beginning, she doesn’t believe that the dashing Max de Winter could possibly love her, which leads her to believe that all the servants and townspeople around Manderley are sneering at her—whether or not they actually are.
  1. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey. Thought to be deaf and dumb, our narrator, Chief Bromden, is anything but. He may suffer from schizophrenia, PTSD, and paranoia about “The Combine,” a mysterious, shadowy group that he believes runs all of society, but he’s the perfect narrator for this story. As he says, “It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.”

 

Who are your favorite unreliable narrators?

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16 thoughts on “Top Ten Books For People Who Like Unreliable Narrators

    • Ahhh, I’m so jealous!! The Girl on the Train was sooo good. I would love to meet her in person, but alas, we have only interacted a bit through Twitter (which, still, squee!). Thanks for stopping by! 😀

  1. Excellent list! I do love a good unreliable narrator. One of my recent faves is ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey. BLACK CHALK by Christopher J. Yates is another I really like.

  2. I don’t know if I would classify Mrs. DeWinter from Rebecca as an unreliable narrator. I probably don’t remember the book very well, but I found her pretty reliable, probably a bit too touchy about how others treat her but nothing more than that.

    One other unreliable narrator book that I read and loved is The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and I recommend it highly.

    • I think her insecurity might have skewed the way she talked about things. Maybe she’s not as unreliable as some other narrators I’ve mentioned, but I still think she at least partially falls into this category.

      I’ve actually read The Turn of the Screw (haven’t gotten around to posting my review yet, though) and while I wasn’t crazy about it, you are definitely right about the unreliable narrator part!

  3. Love this list and most of the books on it! House of Leaves is one I’m constantly recommending. I really need to get around to reading Haunting of Hill House. Shirley Jackson is perfect. I’d never heard of The Dinner before, though, so I’ll be looking into that!

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