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Unreliable Narrator

Read a novel with an unreliable narrator. 

June 1, 2021

An unreliable narrator is a narrator—usually the main character, whose perspective you see throughout the book—who does not present the reader with the truth (or the full truth). The narrator may be immature, exaggerating or bragging, not taking the narration seriously, experiencing a mental illness, lying to themselves, or deliberately misrepresenting themselves to the reader.

This list is part of the 2021 Adult Summer Reading program.

Atonement

Atonement

Ian McEwan

In 1935 England, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses an event involving her sister Cecilia and her childhood friend Robbie Turner, and she becomes the victim of her own imagination, which leads her on a lifelong search for truth and absolution.

Before I go to sleep

Before I Go to Sleep

S.J. Watson

An amnesiac attempts to reconstruct her past by keeping a journal and discovers the dangerous inconsistencies in the stories of her husband and her secret doctor.

The bell jar

The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

Chronicles one young woman’s emotional breakdown as she journeys from the glamorous world of Manhattan publishing to the isolation of the asylum.

The dinner

The Dinner

Herman Koch

Meeting at a fashionable Amsterdam restaurant for dinner, two couples move from small talk to the wrenching shared challenge of their teenage sons’ shattering act of violence that has triggered a police investigation and revealed the extent to which each family will go to protect those they love, in a U.S. release of an international best-seller.

Elizabeth is missing

Elizabeth is Missing

Emma Healey

When Maud, an aging grandmother who is slowly losing her memory, is convinced that her best friend Elizabeth is missing and in terrible danger, she becomes obsessed with saving her beloved friend despite the fact that no one believes her.

The girl on the train

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins

Obsessively watching a breakfasting couple every day to escape the pain of her losses, Rachel witnesses a shocking event that inextricably entangles her in the lives of strangers.

Gone girl

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn

When a beautiful woman goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, her diary reveals hidden turmoil in her marriage and a mysterious illness; while her husband, desperate to clear himself of suspicion, realizes that something more disturbing than murder may have occurred.

I let you go

I Let You Go

Clare Mackintosh

Devastated by a hit-and-run accident that has ended the life of her young son, Jenna moves to the remote Welsh coast to search for healing while two dedicated policemen try to get to the bottom of the case.

In the blood

In the Blood

Lisa Unger

A master manipulator and compulsive liar, Lana Granger, with her trust fund almost depleted, takes a job babysitting a troubled boy named Luke, who, accustomed to controlling the people in his life, threatens to reveal the truth about her involvement in the disappearance of her closest friend.

Jazz

Jazz

Toni Morrison

In a simple love story set in 1926 Harlem, fiftyish door-to-door salesman Joe Trace murders his teenaged lover, whom his hairdresser wife, Violet, then tries to disfigure at the funeral.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Yann Martel

Possessing encyclopedia-like intelligence, unusual zookeeper’s son Pi Patel sets sail for America, but when the ship sinks, he escapes on a life boat and is lost at sea with a dwindling number of animals until only he and a hungry Bengal tiger remain.

The murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
A Hercule Poirot Mystery

Agatha Christie

A widow’s sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study, but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow’s blackmailer. Kings Abbot is crawling with suspects and it’s up to famous detective, Hercule Poirot, to solve the case.

My sunshine away

My Sunshine Away

M. O. Walsh

A man reflects on the summer of his fourteenth year, where in Baton Rouge he fell in love with a golden-haired girl across the street before an unspeakable crime shattered illusions in his seemingly idyllic neighborhood.

Never let me go

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

A reunion with two childhood friends draws Kathy and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into their lives at Hailsham, an isolated private school in the English countryside, and a confrontation with the truth about their childhoods.

The other mother

The Other Mother

Carol Goodman

A woman on the run with her infant daughter from a controlling husband takes a job at a Catskills estate and navigates the difficult challenges of Post Partum Mood Disorder at the side of a charismatic new friend who proves to have a disturbing hidden nature.

Our kind of cruelty

Our Kind of Cruelty

Araminta Hall

A less-than-reliable male narrator describes his emergence from a brutal childhood and devotion to the happiness of a woman who he believes is not returning his calls because she is playing games with him and only pretending to be getting married to someone else.

The people in the trees

The People in the Trees

Hanya Yanagihara

Joining an anthropologist’s 1950 expedition to discover a lost tribe on a remote Micronesian island, a young doctor investigates and proves a theory that the tribe’s considerable longevity is linked to a rare turtle, a finding that brings worldwide fame and unexpected consequence.

Rebecca

Rebecca

Daphne du Maurier

At the great Cornwall estate of Manderley, Maxim de Winter and his frightened new wife try to live with the haunting legacy of Maxim’s first wife, the beautiful and cold Rebecca, who died in a sailing accident.

The secret history

The Secret History

Donna Tartt

Richard Papen, a relatively impoverished student at a New England college, falls in with an exclusive clique of rich, worldly Greek scholars and soon learns the dreadful secret that keeps them together.

Sometimes I lie

Sometimes I Lie

Alice Feeney

A psychological thriller by a former BBC News producer depicts the harrowing experiences of a coma patient with shut-in syndrome who, while unable to move or speak, must listen to those around her to figure out what happened and who is responsible for her injuries.

The sound and the fury

The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner

Retells the tragic times of the Compson family, including beautiful, rebellious Caddy; manchild Benjy; haunted, neurotic Quentin; Jason, the brutal cynic; and Dilsey, their Black servant.

What was she thinking?

What Was She Thinking?
Notes on a Scandal

Zoë Heller

When her best friend Sheba Hart’s love affair with an underage male student comes to light, igniting a media circus, solitary schoolteacher Barbara Covett decides to write an account of the affair in her friend’s defense, in the process revealing not only Sheba’s secrets, but also her own

The white tiger

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life—having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

The woman in the window

The Woman in the Window

A.J. Finn

An agoraphobic recluse languishes in her New York City home, drinking wine and spying on her neighbors, before witnessing a terrible crime through her window that exposes her secrets and raises questions about her perceptions of reality.