Today we have a delightful guest visiting us from elsewhere on the internet! We are excited to welcome Jenny from Reading the End to Lady Business to share several bits of cool knowledge about Unreliable Narrators. Check out her excellent words below!
Whilst planning this article, people variously told me that unreliable narrators are cheap show-offy authorial tricksiness, that nobody has time to spend worrying whether their own narrator knows what's up, and WHY WOULD I READ A BOOK THAT'S JUST GOING TO LIE TO ME? (My podcast co-host, Whiskey Jenny, very much does not like being lied to.)
It's also a slippery, wobbly sort of trope to pin down. Do we include the protagonist of Emma
as an unreliable narrator, since her unflinching belief in her intelligence and rightness blind her to what's happening right in front of her? (I vote no.) What about the protagonist of Karen Joy Fowler's excellent We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
, who tells us the exact truth but withholds a single, vital detail until about a third of the way through the book? (Again, and very controversially at my family's Sunday breakfast, no.)
And what differentiates an unreliable narrator from one who's simply wrong? We're asked to place the worst possible interpretation on Laurent's behavior throughout the first Captive Prince
book, because we're seeing him through Damen's eyes, but that ends up being because Damen, like us
, is simply not in possession of a full set of facts. So in the end, that's what I decided made the difference. To count as an unreliable narrator, in the super-scientific taxonomy I am about to unveil, the narrator must have the facts available to them, and their narration must convey to the reader a skewed, limited, or biased version of those facts.
("But Jenny, doesn't We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
count under that metric?" You hush. It's only that one single secret she doesn't tell right away. Who's the captain of this taxonomy schooner anyway?)
Here's the taxonomy in a nutshell: Unreliable narrators are being unreliable either consciously or unconsciously. The facts and events about which they are unreliable are either decipherable by the reader or they are not. This creates four lovely quadrants of unreliable narrators, and if I were mathematically minded I'd make a fabulous interactive graph for you. Since I am not you will have to make do with words. ( Read more... )