[DWJ] Unreliable narrators

Ven vendersleighc at yahoo.com
Tue Jul 25 07:01:00 EDT 2006

<Apparently Short's point was about unreliable 
narrators - which also tends
to give away the plot, so I guess he was damned 
whatever he referred to, as
Minnow says. Though he seems to think this is a 
common feature of mystery
books, which slightly puzzles me. I can't 
immediately think of others. His
other example was a narrator who was not to be 
relied on for the truth
rather one who was actually telling lies.>

I would think he means narrators who are
misguided or misled. They don't have all the
information or make unwarranted assumpptions
about the information they do have and thus are
well set up to lead the reader up whatever garden
path the author chooses. A classic example would
be Dr Watson whose major handicap is not being as
bright as the Great Detective and thus always a
couple of steps behind. It is of course in the
nature of mystery novels that Things Are Not What
They Seem so other characters will lie to them,
and they will filter what they do know through 
whatever prejudices the author cares to give

One shouldn't really trust one hundred percent in
anything a first person narrator tells us in any
book --in even or perhaps especially
autobiography. After all even people trying to
tell the whole truth get it wrong, there have
been experiments on witness perception that
demonstrate this. However a FPN in fiction is an
ideal conduit for the author to feed us
information in the right order, in the right way
and at the right time for us to believe whatever
they want us to. 

I'm really fond of unreliable narrators in all
kinds of fiction, I enjoy the tricks and teases
an author can employ. My all time favourite has
to be Vlad Taltos in Steven Brust's Dragaera
novels. Vlad lies to whoever he thinks he is
telling the story to, he lies to himself, he is
in ignorance of all kinds of crucial facts
(including on occasion just who he is talking to)
and the stories are told out of order so just
what he knows at any one time is also up for
grabs. It keeps me readign and rereading the
books again and again as theer are always new
revelations to be had that change not only the
book you are reading but all the others in the
series as well.


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