Re: RARA-AVIS: The undependable narrator

Date: 17 Aug 2006

Dave wrote:

"To me it's simple, it it makes sense for the character to be unreliable
(especially if it makes sense only within the irrational thought process of the character), then the unreliable character usually works."

I agree. Reliability and fairness are two very different things. Reliability is a function of the narrator, whereas fairness is a function of the author.

But everyone's being too theoretical here. Let's talk specifics. A good example of an unreliable narrator is Dave's Fast Lane. We come to realize fairly early on that the narrator is withholding and/or spinning certain information, wilfully lying to the reader. I think the key phrase here is "we come to realize" -- Dave, the author, has played fair. The reader (at least this reader, who isn't very concerned with figuring out whodunnit early, but does require that whodunnit could be figured out and makes sense) starts to recognize there are cracks and omissions, that the narrator's story doesn't quite hold up, that something is being hidden, long before the narrator admits it.

And that's a narrator who is purposely unreliable. There are others who are trying to be reliable, but can't, due to drugs, psychosis, amnesia, whatever. But the determining factor for me is whether or not the reader can (not necessarily does) figure out that the narrator may not be telling the truth, and can start to see the truth that is being withheld, and understand the source of the unreliability.

Perhaps one of the ultimate unreliable narrators is the one in Robbe Grillett's Jealousy. It takes a fair amount of time to even determine there is an on-scene narrator, at the same time the reader realizes the narrative of the same scene keeps shifting as the narrator becomes more and more paranoid.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 17 Aug 2006 EDT