The Narrator Is Lying To You!

Hello everyone! You may have guessed by the title, we’re talking about some fun and interesting plot devices today. Well perhaps it’s just a single plot device, but it’s a BIG one. That’s right- we are getting into the Unreliable Narrator!

Since the beginning of the art of storytelling, you have always been able to trust the word of the narrator. This is the role in a story that fills you in, lets you know what’s going on. Your narrator is the voice that gives you everything you need to know in the story you’re enjoying. But what happens when that narrator can’t be trusted?

This concept that you cannot trust the teller of the tale was unheard of until 1926. That was the year when female author Agatha Christie shook the foundations of Mystery and Crime writers around the world. She wrote a book called The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd that was published in June of 1926 in the U.K.

The book features Hercule Poirot as the Lead Detective on the case of a single murder of the man named Roger Ackroyd. Our narrator for the tale is Dr. James Sheppard who takes on the role of Poirot’s assistant. Together they move through a suspect list of around eight or nine people, all of whom have something to hide. The pacing is slower and less shocking than most detective novels of the time and surely far less than those of today. But the subtleties and analytical satisfaction makes for a captivating tale.

In 1926, the ending of the book was unprecedented. Each and every suspect is cleared of all charges and our beloved narrator, Dr. James Sheppard, is found to in fact be the murderer. Poirot gives Sheppard two choices, surrender to the police or commit suicide and maintain a clean name for the sake of his sister. Needless to say readers didn’t know what to make of this shocking ending. Some where amazed and some felt cheated and lied to.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was hailed as a cornerstone in the genre and is still known as “one of the most influential crime novels ever written,” as said by Howard Haycraft in 1941. Agatha Christie used her unreliable narrator one more time in her career in a book by the name of Endless Night in 1967. Since then it has been used countless times, and in many places throughout the literary and cinematic world. To name a few, the books Catcher In The Rye by J. D. Salinger and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (the movie directed by David Fincher included obviously). Also notably in the movies Fallen directed by Gregory Hoblit and Sixth Sense directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Just a few examples of narrators that lie to you.

It’s quite fun when you find out that this unreliable narrator has had you fooled right up to the end. An ending that completely rewrites the entire story you’ve just experienced. This wonderfully simple, yet surprisingly complex, plot device has to be used just right though. The narrator must be careful to only feed us enough information for us to believe the truth is being told and that we can trust the narrators voice. So to all fans of Mystery and Crime Fiction, a huge thanks and round of applause to Agatha Christie for gifting the concept of unreliable narrator to the world.

Quick note: if you haven’t had the chance to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie I would highly recommend it!  Not only is it a terrific read, but it’s also a piece of literary history.

So now I must ask you all: What favorite devices or interesting styles catch your fancy? What awesome technique have you used or would like to use in future written projects? I know I for one would like to attempt a spot of unreliable narration. Please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts!

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by!

Related Topic from Bloggers you should meet:
Who You Gonna Trust by David King at Writer Unboxed


3 thoughts on “The Narrator Is Lying To You!

    • Not yet, but I will be running out to get them. The unreliable narrator is always fun. I have a great time when a book tricks me into seeing things one way then flips it on me. It’s a great “Ah-ha!” moment. Thanks for the recommendations! 🙂

  1. I’m always trying to figure out who-done-it before the book gives it away. So, when a writer puts one past me, using the unreliable narrator method, I love it! It’s not a device I see used with great frequency, which makes it all the more surprising and entertaining when one unexpectedly comes across it. I think it really takes some skill to pull it off effectively. I’ll have to check out this Gene Wolfe, too.

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