Tag Archives: narration

Unreliable Narrator

He was an unreliable narrator.

He started showing up late for chapters. Scenes would lurch into action without any preamble. Gorgeous or bleak scenery out the window went unremarked. Situations, histories, rivalries, marriages went unexplained.

The characters, missing his cue, became reticent, unsure of when to begin or how, but eventually, out of necessity, they learned to start without him and then, once started, to carry on, completing things a different way. (A few hardy souls came to prefer this newfound freedom. They discovered the confused magic of improvisation.)

Other times he showed up right on time but he made little mistakes. He might repeat information, for example, gumming things up and slowing the pace. Or he changed the names of characters. The characters themselves didn’t seem to notice, greetings were exchanged as usual, plotlines flowed as expected, but now Lily was Lola, and two chapters later the Frenchman Pierre was an Englishman named Peter.

Very late in the book, the unreliable narrator disappeared altogether.

“It’s bad enough having no God,” purred one of the women, a jaded woman who had earned a Ph.D. studying literature and philosophy, “but no God-like point-of-view, even someone omniscient enough to know how all this ends? Who knows what to pay attention to?”

Where was this guy? Moonlighting? Working two books? Three? Seven? Hundreds?

To answer that question would require a narrator for the narrator. “It’s turtles all the way down,” one of the characters remarked.

The woman with the Ph.D. nodded and set down her drink. Damn, she wanted a smoke. She stared hard at Peter, or was it Pierre, and wondered if he had a cigarette.

And he met her gaze—how?

We’ll never know. “I’ve been thinking about horses,” he said.