For those who enjoy reading between the lines and filling in the blanks, novels with unreliable narrators are the way to go. An online community of avid readers shares 24 of their favorite titles with such narration techniques.
1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
In Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, the narrator, Humbert Humbert, is considered unreliable for several reasons, as stated by a reader. The narrator presents a distorted perspective, justifying immorality by using manipulative language.
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
While unreliable narrators can be intentionally misleading, Esther Greenwood can be occasionally unreliable due to her struggles with mental illness. Readers may find she never thoroughly explains her intentions nor tells the details of her uncontrollably distorted reality.
3. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Sometimes, having inconsistent narration means leaving a lot of loopholes and giving a reader an uncomfortable experience of incompleteness. However, one reader says, “This one is a hard novel to get through, but everything makes sense once you read halfway through.”
4. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
While the film is also brilliant, the novel is the best source to experience the untrustworthy narration. If readers interpret Patrick Bateman as an unreliable narrator, it allows them to see the interaction between the narrative and the themes at work in this story.
5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
While the story has three narrators, Rachel, the main narrator, is the hardest to follow. Readers have divided opinions on this style, as some may find Rachel overbearing. To others, that’s the point. Rachel’s distorted view and experiences under the influence of alcohol make the story a rollercoaster ride.
6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This controversial book often goes unacknowledged for its narration technique, as many read it during their teens. One person comments, “It's a great book! I read it as a teen and took it totally at face value. Then I re-read it in my 30s and was like, WOW – this is not the book I thought it was!”
7. The Locked Tomb Series by Tamsyn Muir
While the first book has a reliable narrator, the second book is “no thoughts, only vibes” till it all comes together at the end, observes a member. Many recognize that the author took a massive risk, and the courageous move somehow paid off well.
8. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
This one takes a subtle approach, as even the author didn’t realize his narrator would be unreliable until he was halfway done with his first draft! The inconsistency of Tyler Durden is only evident after the ultimate reveal. Invisible Monsters, by the same author, also has a similar style.
9. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Though it’s a very dark and heavy read, this novel is the first to come to a commenter’s mind. Eva’s narration is questionable as the experience of tragedy can distort it. Hence, the story is prone to ambiguity and exaggeration.
10. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor, the narrator of this story, is an oddball. Her lack of knowledge about social norms means her relationship with Raymond isn’t crystal clear. One is left to read between the lines to discover what’s happening and make the connections that Eleanor misses.
11. What Was She Thinking by Zoe Heller
Barbara, Sheba’s colleague, narrates the questionable affair between Sheba and Steven. Barbara’s bitterness and involvement taint the story, and her role in the relationship dictates many of the following events.
12. Drive Your Plough Over The Bones of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Eva is one of the most mysterious narrators out there. Due to her cold demeanor, she isn’t easy to read. Despite empathizing with her in some events, many readers fail to warm up to her as she is a complicated woman.
13. Piranesi by Susanna Clark
Set in a parallel universe that triggers memory loss and identity crisis, the story reconstructs a narrator’s arrival in this world. This title was suggested to a member maybe a year ago, and they loved it. They still think about it sometimes.
14. Endless Night by Agatha Christie
This may be one of her lesser-known works, but a reader describes the novel as “quite atmospheric.” It is narrated by Michael Rogers, a 22-year-old man with grand ideas but no means of attaining them.
15. A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
This novel is a brilliant approach to the unreliable narrator trope, as Etsuko’s distorted storytelling reveals the complexity of migration. Readers also suggest Klara and the Sun and The Remains of the Day by the same author.
16. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Chief Bromden is a Native American first-person narrator of this incredible story. He is hospitalized because of his schizophrenia, and as a reader points out, you don’t get much more unreliable than a heavily medicated psychiatric in-patient.
17. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
For a novel based on the moment of discovering the ultimate truth in an investigation, the narration style is a brilliant contrast. This historical fiction set in England a few hundred years ago hits the nail on the head as four narrators tell the same story from their perspective.
18. The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
An unreliable narrator is even more odd and striking if they’re a well-established, educated individual. Tarquin Winot may be an erudite English author and food critic, but that doesn’t stop him from being profoundly unreliable.
19. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
This one’s an alternate history and fantasy children's novel. In this magical journey, readers encounter a sarcastic genie in a bottle with severe delusions about his power and importance and the young boy who summons him.
20. The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman
This 2014 horror novel has a rather exciting ending, followed by an epilogue that reveals critical information about the degree to which the narration is to be trusted.
21. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Here’s a classic choice. As Nick Carraway is the story's narrator, readers must question the extent to which he is to be trusted. While he isn’t a typical “unreliable narrator,” he calls himself one of the few honest people he’s ever known. This can make readers cautious of the tale he tells.
22. Tales From The Gas Station by Jack Townsend
One reader points out the many vignettes in the three books, but there is a compelling line with the narrator because of his unreliable perspective.
23. Seven American Nights by Gene Wolfe
Among other titles, such as The Book Of The New Sun, one user vouches for Seven American Nights, whose narrator is unreliable in at least three ways. Another reader suggests reading The Shadow of the Torturer by the same author with a famously unreliable narrator.
24. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
In a novel where morality slips away from the ordinary course of action, an unreliable narrator is the perfect choice to communicate the ambiguity of evil.