The Unreliable Narrator

In Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, a book you may have noticed that I’m reading, Stewardship Strategy #4 is Read Well. Well, I thought, there’s something I do! The chapter begins by saying that we all continue to learn to read throughout our lives. This is also true. I’m not very good at some kinds of reading and pretty skilled at some other kinds of reading. I’ve been stretching my reading this year with the Older Book Challenge, in which I read at least one book published before 1970 for every two newer books. Reading older books takes me out of my comfort zone and gives me different views of the world.

The most recent older book I read was The Quiet American by Graham Greene, first published in 1955. The narrator is an English journalist based in Saigon. The title character is an acquaintance of the narrator. The book unfolds the relationship between the two men. I don’t think I’m spoiling things for you if I say that the narrator is unreliable. There are all kinds of clues in the book that the narrator is not quite giving you the whole story. But his voice tells the story. It is the only way we have to hear the tale that must be told. I think it a nice political statement that a book about Vietnam has an unreliable narrator.

What are some other books with unreliable narrators? The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie pops to mind instantly, but I can’t think of others immediately. Our Man in Havana isn’t exactly forthcoming, but I’m not sure he is totally unreliable. What about you? Which narrators do you not trust?


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