“We are all unreliable narrators, not just in the way we tell our stories to others, but how we tell them to ourselves.”
Deb Coletti (author)
An unreliable narrator is an untrustworthy storyteller, or one whose credibility has been seriously compromised. This type of narrator/protagonist is often used in stories with a first-person point of view. The unreliable narrator is either deliberately deceptive or unintentionally misguided, forcing the reader to question their trustworthiness. Sometimes the narrator’s unreliability is made clear from the outset, either by admitting to being untruthful or through clues to the narrator’s deceptions. For a more dramatic effect, sometimes the unreliability isn’t revealed until near the end of the story, in which the reader discovers concealed or misrepresented vital pieces of information. In some instances, the narrator’s unreliability is only hinted at, but never fully revealed, leaving readers to wonder how much the narrator should be trusted and how the story should be interpreted.
Unreliable narrators can be characterized in a several ways:
- One who has a knack for exaggerating or bragging. For example, exaggerating his or her background to impress or influence others.
- One who is mentally detached from reality. This can be due to mental illness, medication, or memory loss.
- One who does not take the narration seriously, and plays with conventions, truth, and the reader’s expectations.
- One whose narrative abilities are impacted by age or inexperience. This can make the narrator ignorant of all the facts.
- One who is just a liar and fabricates stories, often to paint a better picture of himself/herself or achieve a desired outcome. This is the most deliberate of all the unreliable narrators.
Unreliable narrators have been around for centuries, but have become extremely popular in recent years with the increasing popularity of psychological thrillers. Check out some of the selections below and see if you can figure out what the real story is!