posted on September 20, 2016 by Jeanne Devlin

The Case of the Unreliable Narrator

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final-maple-cover-feb-11-2016I tend to put books — and the authors who write them — on a pedestal, but the truth is that a good many are as susceptible to trends or gimmicks as your average teenager.

Think vampire novels. Dystopian series. And various shades of gray.

In recent years, this has given us the anti-hero and the unlikable heroine. It has also given us the unreliable narrator. And, for the record, I have a bias when it comes to all three but especially the latter.

Way too often, I find an unreliable narrator akin to having a character drop into a book in one of the final chapters so the author can tie up what would otherwise be an untenable plot in one fell, unsatisfying swoop. It’s one of my personal pet peeves in a mystery or suspense novel, along with stories peppered with unbelievable coincidences.

the-girl-on-the-trainBut, as with every device, sometimes the unreliable narrator works. USA Today Bestselling Author T. M. Causey’s latest novel The Saints of the Lost and Found comes to mind. As do such classics as The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby or Lolita.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

The Girl on the Train thrilled millions of readers, and it is set to be released as a movie come October 7th, but it was a disappointment as far as I was concerned. The coincidence the book bases its story upon: a passenger on a train sees a murder committed in a lovely home that flies past on her commute—is intriguing and original. The plethora of coincidences that follow not only ask the reader to suspend disbelief but also irritated this reader.

And for me, the final straw was the realization that the narrator was an unreliable one. I will go to the movie to see how the filmmakers handle this story, and I will go hoping that for once the movie will be better than the book.

Is there a book that disappointed you, but that redeemed itself on the silver screen?

—Jeanne Devlin

Jeanne Devlin

Jeanne Devlin

Jeanne Devlin is editor of The RoadRunner Press, an award-winning traditional publishing house based in the American West. An editor of newspapers, magazines, and books for more than thirty years, she has also worked on national marketing and publicity campaigns with such publishers as Simon and Schuster and St. Martin's and for a number of New York Times bestselling authors, including Robyn Carr, Sabrina Jeffries, Debbie Macomber, Linda Lael Miller, and Wendy Corsi Staub. A graduate of the Stanford University Publishing Course, Jeanne is a member of the Children's Book Council, the National Book Critics Circle, and the Oklahoma Center for the Book of the Library of Congress. She also consults with boutique publishers.

One thought on “The Case of the Unreliable Narrator”

  1. Avatar Warren says:

    I agree. Disappointed by the ending. Curious to see movie and how it is handled.

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