Flawed Narrators

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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby Rowadanr » Sat May 29, 2010 8:11 pm UTC

Siri Keeton, the narrator from Peter Watt's Blindsight (One of my favourite novels, for so many reasons) is one of the most unreliable narrators I've ever come across. As is revealed early on in the story, so it's not a spoiler, his actual job and capacity on the mission is to be mission control's "narrator" and interpreter for his much less baseline-compatible posthuman colleagues. One of the themes of the book is the breakdown of his self-image as an cool, inhuman "reliable narrator" in the face of events in the book that I will not commit the moral crime of spoiling.
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby Sir Novelty Fashion » Mon May 31, 2010 3:55 am UTC

Dead Romance by Lawrence Miles is an excellent example of a book with an unreliable narrator. Ostensibly Christine Summerfield is writing a journal of her experiences in the last days of the Earth (before it was destroyed on Oct 12th 1970), and like any amateur effort, she skips about the timeline of events, and retells bits, and goes off on tangents, and the book twists and turns, and when it finally punches you in the stomach it's from an angle you weren't expecting but which was there all along.

Actually, there's a similar trait in his earlier Down, too, although used to a slightly different purpose, and it's a more flawed novel, TBH. Still pretty good, though.

Miles' most recent novel, This Town Will Never Let Us Go, also plays with an unreliable narrator, though this time it's less that the narrator is unreliable as that the narrator has their own bias on events while telling a third-person narrative. It's a kind of impersonal unreliable narrator, I suppose; you get all the facts, but you also sometimes get rival theories of what's going on, and you're left with an open question of what's real and what isn't. You also get frequent doses of the narrator's opinion on things. It's certainly a really different book, anyway, and actually a really excellent example of (dare I say it) Science Fantasy. And not in the "laser-swords and space wizards" sense. At all. This is "fantasy" in that it's about our symbols rather than our tools. So, yeah. It's an excellent book. Go buy it. And Dead Romance, actually. Because they're both brilliant, albeit in different ways.
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby minehowe » Tue Jun 01, 2010 2:36 pm UTC

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway has a rather nice example of an unreliable narrator, but I don't want to spoil the book for any potential readers. You'll just have to read it (and IMO it's well worth it!).
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby RabbitWho » Thu Jun 17, 2010 7:51 pm UTC

I know this isn't what you meant, because he wrote mostly in third person.. but George Orwell.. what a miserable sexist hateful and bitter little man. Of course he was intelligent and creative and wrote some amazing books... but "Coming up for Air" is a fine example of how didn't have any kind of a handle on life and humanity and had no respect or admiration for human beings at all.
The poor wife in that, talk about a misunderstood and abused character. As if she had no soul or creativity or desires or potential to be happy in her at all, as if her whole life was about counting pennies and making him miserable and therefore her whole life was pointless.
And then he went to that village and found that old love from his childhood, and he looked at her aging and sagging body and (I can't remember the exact words) "He thanked god he had been born a man because no matter what happened his body would never be that disgusting and repulsive".
As if that was all she was worth! I really wanted to burn the book at that point but it was belonging to a friend.

Even in "Down and Out in Paris and London" which has some beautiful characters in it he was sure to mention how the homeless woman thought she was better than everyone else and wouldn't talk to anyone else.
The fact she was probably afraid of being raped (and probably had been since she was sleeping on the streets) didn't seem important to him apparently.

And as a political account and a warning and a fantasy and a horror 1984 was perfect.. But the conclusion of that book.. that love and empathy don't exist.. it's nonsense. I've been through my Room 101 and 1984 actually came into my head while it was happening and I tried to see if I wished it on anyone else.. but I couldn't bring myself to wish it on my worst enemy, let alone someone I loved. (I have no phobias, my room 101 was extreme 11 out of 10 pain, I don't imagine rats eating my face could be more painful) All I wanted was for the pain to stop, but I would bare it before giving it to someone else.
I asked my mother about this when she injured her back badly and she agreed, she couldn't even imagine wishing the pain on the people who were responsible for it.
So yeah, in that regard the book is factually incorrect and I think it has done a lot of damage by convincing people that they are capable of betraying their families and loved ones when in fact they probably aren't.

But Orwell was human and flawed like anyone else, he achieved great heights with his books as well.
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby viscusanima » Thu Jun 17, 2010 8:55 pm UTC

I'm gonna have to talk a bit about A Clockwork Orange here, because it's so brilliant.

Alex is a 15-year old engaged in gang violence, theft, assault, rape, murder, vandalism etc. He commits the most reprehensible acts possible and gets sent to prison and 'reformed' for them. He narrates the entire book in a Cockney-Russian slang called nadsat which burrows into your brain like a worm, without you even realising (brainwashing and lack of free will are key themes in the book) and he enjoys classical music.

In spite of all his faults, somehow he manages to make the reader sympathise with him. I honestly don't know how - I mean, he engages with us on a personal level, calling us his brothers etc, but I really don't know how Burgess created such a horrible character who, nevertheless, the reader can't help but sympathise with. I hate myself for having any level of sympathy with a murderer/rapist, and yet for some reason, it's forced upon you. I'm sure someone will disagree with me here, but I think most people probably feel the same way.

Alex is the epitome of a flawed narrator.
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby joek » Fri Jun 18, 2010 7:25 am UTC

JayDee wrote:
cephalopod9 wrote:One of Neil Gaiman's short story collections was supposed to be all flawed/unreliable narrators, Smoke and Mirrors, I think.
I could be wrong, but wasn't that the original idea behind Fragile Things? (which I haven't read more than the introduction, but I've read Smoke and Mirrors and don't remember it having a cohesive theme.)


Mhm, this was originally going to be Fragile Things, not S&M*; but Gaiman changed various things from conception to excecution for Fragile things. It was originally also all going to be prose, but after he wrote Instructions, he wanted to include that, and so added some poetry as well. Most of the stories, however, still do have unreliabl narrators, for various reasons.

*Yes, I didn't realise this when I wrote it, but I can't change it now. It just wouldnt be right.
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby Woopate » Mon Jun 21, 2010 6:04 am UTC

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is 1st person and I loved watching the transition. I'm not sure as to the accuracy of the writer's concept of a mentally handicapped person, but I think it's an awesome example of a flawed narrator.
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby RabbitWho » Sun Jun 27, 2010 12:08 pm UTC

I just finished reading "The other side of paradise" I wanted to slap Avery hard across the face several times. It got good towards the very end, about from the time he met Eleanor on.
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Re: Flawed Narrators

Postby BurningLed » Fri Jul 02, 2010 2:09 am UTC

Jonathan Barnes' novel The Somnambulist has an extremely flawed narrator -- He harbors an unimaginable reservoir of malice for the protagonist, frequently lies or alters the story he tells (though he informs the reader of it) and describes the various characters of the book in a rather unflattering fashion. Although it is in third person, you find out towards the end of the book that the narrator
Spoiler:
is in fact, the main antagonist -- The Reverend Doctor Tan.
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