The recent news coverage of the boy in the balloon, which turned out to be a hoax, had me thinking about unreliable narrators/twist endings. So today’s list features books where you can’t be sure of who is telling the truth. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything for you (like the time I wanted to read Primal Fear, so I asked my husband if he had ever read it or watched the movie, and he immediately replied, “Oh, the one where ********?” Sigh.) Then again, if you like that sort of thing, then we should chat about my dysfunctional relationship with MoviePooper.com.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie is undeniably a (if not THE) classic example.
Hercule Poirot investigates a series of mysterious deaths, culminating in the murder of one Roger Ackroyd. A list of suspects is quickly assembled, with our narrator knowing more than they’re willing to tell.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
Our unnamed narrator hates his life and everything in it. Then he meets Tyler Durden, a charismatic yet psycho young man who changes everything. I’d tell you more, but the first rule of Fight Club is, You Don’t Talk About Fight Club.
The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler.
The debut novel of the man who would become Lemony Snicket, this is the story of precocious Flannery Culp and her high school clique, who call themselves The Basic Eight. When the group falls under the influence of drugs and absinthe, murder ensues – or does it? Is Flan a psychopath or simply a drama queen? At turns darkly hysterical and deeply disturbing, Flan is one hell of an unreliable narrator that you won’t soon forget.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.
Shutter Island is an old military base that is now a hospital for the criminally insane. U.S. Marshal Teddy and his partner, Chuck are sent to investigate the disappearance of a young woman from the facility, but discover there are more sinister things at work on the island – or do they? Lehane throws a number of red herrings, odd plot twists, and a hurricane in to the mix, leaving the reader wondering exactly what is going on.
Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff.
In this dark, fast-paced satiric novel, a strange young woman named Jane is being held in a Las Vegas jail cell and interrogated for murder. She claims that she works for a secret government organization: the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons. Meaning, her job is to kill people, “Bad Monkeys”, who aren’t… nice. As her tale unfolds, it becomes less and less clear if she is criminally insane, or if she’s actually telling the truth.
Atonement by Ian McEwan.
Our narrator here is pre-teen Briony, jealous of her glamorous older sister, Cecilia. When a confused and jealous Briony tells a lie that spirals out of control, she changes the destinies of Cecilia and their childhood friend Robbie, as well as her own. Personally, I would have liked a some more action here (and really didn’t need 2 pages of description about the lawn and a fountain…) but literary fiction lovers will devour this all the way through the twist at the end.
Primal Fear by William Diehl.
When Aaron, an altar boy, is accused of murdering a Catholic Archbishop, an unscrupulous lawyer takes the case in order to gain publicity for himself. But when Aaron confesses to the crime under the influence of a dual personality disorder, the trial becomes even more sensational, with a stunning conclusion.
The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian.
Narrator Laurel has survived a brutal attack while biking on an isolated trail. Some years later, she comes across photographs taken by a homeless man, and among them is a picture of her on her bike. She becomes obsessed with finding out more about the photographer, including how on earth he may be connected to her. But is she telling us everything we need to know?