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Liar, Liar! Unreliable Narrators

| Burlington County Library

Have you ever read a book with an unreliable narrator? Something where the main character 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 an admission of untruthfulness or through clues to the narrator’s deceptions. Sometimes, for a more dramatic effect, the unreliability isn’t revealed until near the end of the story when the reader discovers concealed or misrepresented vital 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 several ways:

  • One who has a knack for exaggerating or bragging. For example, exaggerating one’s 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 oneself 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 interest in psychological thrillers. Check out some of the selections below and see if you can figure out what the real story is!

Audience: Adult Teens
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