Friday, January 15, 2016

Unreliable Narrators - Why I Hate Them

For about eight years while I was growing up, I read exclusively mystery novels. A lot of Agatha Christie and other, more contemporary authors. I especially was a fan of the cozy mysteries. I remember once reading a mystery where the narrator was unreliable. I also remember how much I hated that book.

It's because of reading so many mystery books that I've always felt as though there's a kind of contract between authors and readers. It's an agreement that the author promises to leave enough clues that you can figure out the murderer and the reader promises to not skip to the last page.

I've always loved solving the mystery along with the sleuth character in the story. Sometimes I'm wrong, more often I'm right, but I love being given the clues needed to put the case together.

To me, unreliable narrators take that away from the reader. So often, there's not even little snippets of clues left. Anything that could give away the 'big reveal' (and these type of books always have a 'big reveal') is just excised.

I actually also see this as a lazy choice on the author's part. I imagine it would be easier to create a 'big reveal' if you don't have to leave clues for it before hand - both because readers probably won't put it together and loose interest and because the author doesn't have to make use of foreshadowing.

Most of the books I've read with unreliable narrators it seems like a ploy by the author. Now, I do know about some books where the narrator is possibly insane so is unreliable - but the closest I have come to reading a book like that is one where the narrator isn't sure if she's going crazy or is being gaslighted.

It was the latter, as I suspected all along, but it was a rather nice use of unreliable narrator because we still knew everything the narrator did - it's just that the narrator nor the reader is sure if it's real or not.

So, what is your thoughts on unreliable narrators? I'd love to know, even if you totally disagree with me, as I know this is a rather popular trope.