The Reliably Unreliable Narrator

When the rest of America is soaking up HBO and Netflix, nine times out of ten, I'm happily ensconced with  a book.  Or not so happily.  These days, I am weary of that time-honored literary trick of the Unreliable Narrator.   

I've had enough to last a lifetime.

The problem -- for me-- is that as soon as I hear the words, "We were a happy family," I just know, as you do, it's a gloomy bunch, where mom hates pop, or someone's cheating with someone else, or (these days) is molesting someone very young.  As soon as I hear, "faithful husband," probably the opposite and who knows what else is wrong.   It's almost uncanny how reliable that is -- and how predictable.  

My label for this: reliable unreliability.  

Don't get me wrong.  In the hands of an ironic master, like Ishiguro in The Remains of the Day, it's wonderful.  There, the narrator's secrets are lying beneath everything that's said.  The narrator is hidden from us, because he's hidden from himself.  

So, I find myself drawn to writers (often on the other side of the pond, like Sadie Jones) who use Third Person Omniscient.  I like being led through rooms and history.  I like the sense of a story deepening, unfolding, without gimmicks.  A story's no less mysterious because it's told by a narrator who knows more than I do.  The author just gets on with the story-- and let the characters surprise me.


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