Book Recommendation

7 Unreliable Narrators You Don’t Want To Miss

Love them or hate them, unreliable narrators can make a book 1000x more fun.

There’s something so captivating about a person who might be lying through their teeth while pretending to be completely transparent. Don’t get me wrong, not every unreliable narrator is skillfully written – but they don’t deserve a bad rep just because some of them aren’t up to par. So, today, I’ve brought you ten unreliable narrators I adored reading about.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

THOUGHTS: Sometimes I Lie was a wild ride, one of the wildest rides a thriller has ever taken me on, in fact. The story is captivating and filled with twists, and Amber is an incredible narrator who also happens to be unreliable. She is struggling to recall the events leading up to her accident and, being in a coma, she cannot ask the people around her for more information. Most importantly, though, she herself admits to “sometimes” lying, so despite how truthful and transparent she seems, we’re left guessing just how honest she’s being.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

THOUGHTS: Fantasy novels rarely make it onto “best unreliable narrator” lists, but I simply had to make an exception for The Fifth Season, also known as one of the best novels I’ve read this year. The way the book is built up, there’s a lot we don’t know as readers and Essun, whose chapters are in second person singular, isn’t known for her willingness to be transparent. Essun’s chapters are captivating and complex – and so is the rest of the book – so I highly recommend this, especially to those who enjoy dense, complicated fantasies.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

THOUGHTS: Gone Girl is such a classic I feel like everyone who wanted to read it has already read it, but in case you haven’t – please do! It’s not only one of my favorite thrillers, but also one of my all time favorite books, in part because it’s trippy to be in the heads of our narrators, Amy and Nick. Gone Girl is heavy on lies and deceit, and will keep you on your toes until the very last page.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise, I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead…

THOUGHTS: We Have Always Lived in the Castle is short – a novella, rather than a novel – dark and twisted, aka the perfect Halloween read. The characters feel weird and spooky from the get go, including (especially?) our narrator Mary Katherine, and the atmosphere is one of the most suffocating I’ve ever seen in a book. A masterpiece.

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

Lauren, a new mother, is exhausted by the demands of her twin boys. Since coming home from the hospital, she rarely leaves the house. But it isn’t only new motherhood keeping her there. Lauren knows someone is watching them and someone wants her babies. It started with an incident at the hospital and an emergency call in the middle of the night. No one believes her — not her husband, not the police — until one day in the park when everything changes. Is Lauren mad or does she know something no one else does?

THOUGHTS: Little Darling is one of my top books of 2019, and certainly one of my favorite thrillers I’ve ever read. It was quite masterful how Lauren’s chaotic fears are balanced out by Jo, a detective working on Lauren’s case. Lauren, while sometimes wondering about her mental health, believes strongly in the supernatural, while Jo, despite considering the possibility, will always turn to practical answers. Due to their belief in their truth, neither of them is a completely reliable narrator, which made for an interesting read.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

THOUGHTS: The Turn of the Screw is a chilling tale of horror and fear, and its unreliability comes from the governess’ utter confusion. She (seemingly?) wants what’s best for the children, and yet, the ending leaves us with lots of questions, including questions regarding her character. Is she really good? Is she going insane? Is this all true?

Fun fact: The second season of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House will be based on The Turn of the Screw!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

THOUGHTS: The Walls Around Us has one of the best conclusions I’ve ever read; it’s surprising, a bit twisted and satisfying all at once. The story is told through the point of views of two girls: ballet dancer Violet and juvenile detention center inmate Amber. They are both complex, captivating characters… but they don’t always excel at telling the full truth, which is the very thing that makes them fun to read about.

Honorable Mentions

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
  • The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
  • My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Let’s chat!

Do you like unreliable narrators? Who are your favorites? Have you read any of these books?

24 thoughts on “7 Unreliable Narrators You Don’t Want To Miss

  1. You know I ADORE The Walls Around Us – and I completely agree about the ending. (And, oh, the writing!). And Suma really did me in with the twist about one of the girls (I’m being vague because I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, but you know what I mean). The Dead House was darkly delicious, too.

    Unreliable narrators can be an easy prop to build a book around, and the amnesia trope is definitely overdone, but there are a million other ways to make characters unreliable, and when they’re done well, they’re such a delight to be with.

    I tend to stay away from adult thrillers because I don’t like to read about family life and such, but I’ve been on the fence for the YA title We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’m not such a big fan of gothic either, but…🤷

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, haha. The twist about one of the girls was unbelievable, and wow, what a satisfying ending, too. I want more books that are this shocking, tbh.

      I agree; the amnesia trope isn’t something I particularly enjoy, but there are so many other ways to create an unreliable narrator. Simply someone who isn’t totally honest for whatever reason will do.

      I think you’d enjoy We Have Always Live in the Castle, actually. It’s dark, twisted, a bit surprising at parts, and just very unique – I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it.


  2. I haven’t read any books from your main list but the unreliable-ness of the narrator in The Dead House definitely adds the creepy level for me! Same with the Mara Dyer trilogy, none of us know what’s happening the whole time, what’s real and not real, so it’s a terrifying experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Dead House is super unsettling, yeah, it’s so hard to know what to believe, even at the end of the novel. I didn’t really like the Mara Dyer trilogy, so I gave up on it, but I know others love it, and the unreliability of Mara IS scary, I agree.


  3. Gone Girl surprised me, because it doesn’t scream Sam, and I really did not like any of the characters, but the plot sucked me in. I recently read Made You Up, and I would say Alex was unreliable, and I utterly adored her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read The Walls Around Us:

      Okay, right, it was ages ago, and I do admit that the ending was plot-hole-y and confusing, but I loved the part about Ori and Violet basically changing places at the end, where Ori gets back the life that was effectively taken from her by Violet. The rest of the inmates helped Ori accomplish this, if I remember correctly, and it ended with them saying something like they would be waiting for another chance like this – to switch places with someone like Ori did with Violet. (Although I doubt it would work quite like this? Because this was justice, and the world sort of ‘righted’ itself.) I’ve seen some theories that the past was changed, because there’s a part about Violet’s name appearing on the list of inmates, and Ori’s being erased. But some say that only their souls switched places, so Violet’s soul/ghost would remain in the prison, while Ori’s would live in Violet’s body. Either way, it was a really satisfying ending for me, haha.


  4. I haven’t read many unreliable narrators but I think it is an amazing thing to have in a book and it changes the experience so much. I think I am interested in it because it is so different and gives the book unpredictability.
    The Fifth Season is a book I am really interested in and I can’t wait to read it so I’m glad to hear you talk so highly about it and I’m so excited!!
    I’ve seen the movie for Gone Girl and it’s not the same but I do think you got to experience how it is built on lies and mystery so it was so interesting.
    Thank you for making this list as it has brought some new and interesting books to my attention and I look forward to checking them out!! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, it can really make the story more fascinating and twisty to have an unreliable narrator!
      The Fifth Season is one of my favorites of 2019, so I hope you’ll love it! If you enjoyed the Gone Girl movie I definitely recommend the book – they changed some things for the movie that I wasn’t happy with, haha. Either way, yes, the movie is a good representation of this too.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the list. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I feel like I’m very much in the minority with this opinion, but I don’t like unreliable narrators at all. Books with unreliable narrators have never worked well for me and now if I know in advance that a book uses that plot device I avoid it at all cost. I get so annoyed when I can depend on the narrator! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

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