Unreliable Narrators

When reading a book, you can expect the narrator to be truthful. After all, that’s how we get our information about what is occurring in the story. The narrator or protagonist is our eyes and ears in the book. They don’t always have to tell you everything, but you expect to get all the information you need to understand the story, and you expect that information to be factual.

That’s where unreliable narrators come in. Mostly used in thrillers, suspense, and horror stories, these voices quite simply cannot be trusted. Or, even better, they seem trustworthy, but you can’t quite tell. Something just doesn’t add up. Perhaps they are lying or delusional. Or perhaps they are plagued by suppressed memories or guilt. Or maybe, they just don’t have all the facts.Whether the narrator is honest or lying doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the sense of confusion and dread that permeates the story until the very last page!

And that’s what’s happening in these titles. We quite simply cannot trust these narrators. Whether they are purposely lying or just don’t understand really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the reader is left wondering who we are supposed to trust, and what is really happening.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek, an unofficial sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of good and evil, picks up seven years after the death of Hyde and the “disappearance” of Dr. Jekyll. Only Jekyll’s lawyer and confidant, Mr. Utterson, knows the truth–Jekyll and Hyde were one in the same, and both died by Jekyll’s hand. In a few weeks, Utterson is set to inherit the entire Jekyll estate (despite no proof that Jekyll has died, his absence for such a long time will consider him legally deceased). But, then, a week before he gets it all, Jekyll returns. Or, at least, the man claims he’s Jekyll. Utterson is not buying it. Jekyll is dead. He saw the body…right? But, everyone who talks to him is convinced it’s really Jekyll, and that Utterson is simply acting out in his greed for the Jekyll estate. What’s really going on?

The Boy at the Keyhole is the story of nine year old Samuel, who lives alone with his housekeeper, Ruth. His mother is travelling in America, and has been gone for months, only communicating by infrequent letters. The circumstances surrounding her departure were strange, and Samuel begins to suspect that his mother, who loved him more than anything else, would never abandon him like that. As months stretch on and she does not return, Samuel begins to suspect that Ruth had killed her. And the strange circumstances at home convince him that he may be right.

Plain Korede is a hardworking nurse stuck in the shadow of her far more beautiful sister, Ayoola. Everyone loves Ayoola, but only Korede knows her secret–she murders her boyfriends. Ayoola claims its in self-defense, but Korede knows differently. Not that it really matters, since as the dutiful sister, Korede is always there to clean up the mess afterwards. But, when Ayoola turns her attentions to Tade, the man her sister is in love with, things become…complicated, to say the least. This is My Sister the Serial Killer.

The 7 1/2 Lives of Evelyn Hardcastle is probably my favorite title on the list. It starts with a bang, as our unnamed narrator finds himself in the middle of a forest with no idea who or where he is. All he knows is that he can hear the cries of someone being attacked, and the name “Anna” is still fresh on his lips. A meeting with a creepy masked man provides a bit more information: He’s a guest at Evelyn Hardcastle’s homecoming party. At the end of the night, someone will murder her. And he has to figure out who it is (while he still doesn’t know who he is). And if that weren’t complicated enough, our hero will continue to relive the same day over and over again, each time in the body of a different guest at the party, until he figures out who murders Evelyn. And if he can’t solve the mystery in eight days, his memory will be wiped clean, and he’ll be forced to start again.

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Erin

I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.