Re: RARA-AVIS: The undependable narrator

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 16 Aug 2006

My first awareness of the unreliable narrator came with Mordecai Richler's
"Barney's Version". Barney is the narrator reviewing his own life, but the book is published after his death with his son's footnotes pointing out that Barney was descending into the delusions of Alzheimer's disease as he wrote and so his version is unreliable.

I'm not sure that many would consider Richler a crime writer, but most of his books have some element of crime in them, illustrating the temptation and proximity of criminal activity, for ease and necessity.

I very much admired use of the technique in "Motherless Brooklyn", where the narrator's view of events are clearly warped by his own limited experience and the conniving of other characters. But maybe I've got it wrong and that's not a good example of this technique, given that the protagonist goes on to narrate the epiphany that enlightens his earlier naevity.

Regardless, I think use of the admittedly unreliable narrator serves to remind us that all narrators are unreliable one way and another, their tales told from their own, necessarily limited experiences with points-of-view cramped by human foibles and, in the case of Barney, disease. In the end literature is a long history of clumsy groping in a very dark world.

Oh well, Kerry

At 05:23 PM 16/08/2006 +0000, you wrote:

>A superb example of an unreliable narrator is The Right Red Hand by
>Joel Townsley Rogers, a forgotten pulpster of some talent. The whole
>book is a trip, despite its primitive style, because you can't figure
>out whether or not the whole thing is a nightmare of the narrator.
>Despite having the air of a rushed job, the novel is fascinating. I
>think my reprint is in the Blue Murder series of classics (or, as in
>this case, books that should have been classics but remain on the
>fringe). It is somewhat Thompsonian, though the chronology (1945)
>makes it impossible.
>For more info on Joel Townsley Rogers (reprints), see:

------------------------------------------------------ Literary events Calendar (South Ont.) The evil men do lives after them

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