Unreliable Narrator/Literature

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  • If one is familiar with the events of I'm Alan Partridge (and to a lesser extent the other Alanified series), the hideous unreliability of Alan as narrator in his predictably self-serving autobiography I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan is glaringly and hilariously obvious. Instances of Alan's cowardice, selfishness, incompetence, unpopularity, borderline sociopathy and general loathsome inadequacy as a human being are turned by Alan into tales of towering heroism. Alan's in "reality" humiliating encounter with Tony Hayers in the BBC restaurant is somehow turned into a moral victory for Alan, and his encounter with stalker Jed Maxwell becomes a surreal, OTT Bond-esque fight scene with a well-muscled Alan beating Jed to a squealing pulp (instead of, as "actually" happened, Alan being physically humiliated, somehow sweet-talking his way outside and then fleeing in terror).
  • In a children's book re-imagining of the Three Little Pigs, the Wolf details how every instance was a mistake or misunderstanding. Still, the pictures with the text—and the Wolf's shifty tone—can lead even a small child to doubt the veracity of his claims that he is the victim. Specifically, there's the fact that he just "had" to eat the pigs when unfortunate (and completely not his fault) events killed them because "why waste them?"
    • Granted, the Wolf is telling his side of the story. It is possible that the more traditional story was the lie. Add this to the fact the Wolf is portrayed in as The Woobie and the Pigs... are well... pretty much what you expect from pigs. Granted this is coming from the guy who was in a 2nd grade class that held a mock court for the Wolf and we gave him a "Not Guilty" verdict.
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is written largely as a flashback told in the first-person perspective by the main character, Kvothe, and there are hints that it's not wholly reliable. One of Kvothe's companions remarks that a certain woman who shows up frequently in the story (and is the object of Kvothe's affection) wasn't as beautiful as described, among others. He actually says a character won't shows up, but uses Exact Words to lie.
  • The Agatha Christie novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has an infamous Unreliable Narrator who turns out to be the murderer. Christie then does a good deal of back patting as the narrator congratulates himself on hiding his own involvement. He cites specifically the scene of the body's discovery, where the text states "I did what little needed to be done," by which he meant stealing a key piece of evidence from the scene.
    • But the narrator never actually lies to the reader (as in the definition of the trope); he omits his actions at the time of the murder, but is very careful not to lie and, at the end, points out several places where he was being particularly 'fair'.
    • The Live Action TV adaptation couldn't make it work that way, and turned it around instead: The viewer was told from the start that it was the murderer's diary, and the mystery was the author's identity.
    • Christie almost created an Unreliable Omniscient Narrator in And Then There Were None: at one point, the actual murderer, Judge Wargrave, is described as being surprised when the person who wrote the letter inviting them to Indian Island isn't at the island to greet them—and the narrator's little peek into the character's thoughts reveals (or seems to reveal) that the character's surprise is genuine.
    • A good example is Endless Night - Michael talks about meeting the love of his life, a rich heiress, marrying her, fighting with her best friend, building their dream house, only for her to die mysteriously... and then you find out that all of that was a lie, because he's the murderer and his true love is the best friend, who he's known since before the story.
  • There is a pileup of these in the original Frankenstein novel. The book is structured as an epistolary novel, in which the explorer Robert Walton writes to his sister. Then, he finds a certain Victor Frankenstein, who tells the story of how he created a monster and how it ruined his life. At one point during Victor's narration, the monster runs away to eventually come back and tell Victor the story of how he lived while he was away. During the monster's narrative, he overhears a character he has been stalking while said character is explaining how he eloped with his beloved. So the reader is following a plot where someone is telling to someone else that someone told them that someone said... you get it, right?
    • Notwithstanding, the major reason why these narrators are unreliable is lack of information, rather than any willingness to misguide the reader.
    • Although Victor's narrative is definitely biased against the monster.
  • In The Exorcist by William Blatty, a young girl seems possessed by a presence who claims to be the Devil himself. Various developments point more toward a demon called Pazzuzu, but the main and central premise of the novel is that we NEVER fully get proof that there is ANY foreign entity sharing the mind of the young girl. It could all be explained away as (admittedly paranormal) activity originating ONLY from the girl's mind. This horrible doubt is perhaps the central theme of this very powerful and disturbing story - that the hellish narrator inside Reagan...is only Reagan herself. From there, we are forced to ask (along with the main character) do demons really exist? Hell? God?
  • Fight Club has the unnamed narrator who turns out to have a Split Personality disorder and is also Tyler Durden. He doesn't realize he's unreliable until two thirds of the way through the book - and when he finds out and tries to convince everybody else, no one believes him.
  • In The Moth Diaries, the entire story revolves around the unnamed narrator not being reliable. You get to work it out for yourself, because you don't actually find out whether Ernessa is a vampire or not. There are also some very interesting deaths in the plot, and it's fun to work out whether they happened and how much of it was psychosis.
  • In Illuminatus, the narrator's identity is kept secret throughout most of the series as it meanders back and forth through time, through the viewpoints of various characters, some of whom do not actually exist, and through a web of hallucination, myth, and deception.
  • R.A. Wilson's novel The Masks of Illuminati gives a human narrator, Sir John Babcock, who is fairly reliable, albeit emotionally loaded when it comes to his own experiences, but he keeps narrating events that he didn't personally witness without a hint of suspicion or doubt despite of how incredible they are. Most of them aren't even remotely true.
  • Chaucer used this technique in The Canterbury Tales (the "Merchant's Tale", and, to a subtler extent, the General Prologue).
  • The novel Too Many Magicians does this brilliantly. When a major character is examining a crime scene in the very first scene in the story and notes that a trace wasn't left of the killer, the author doesn't mention that the novel is opening just a few seconds after the character committed the crime.
  • The children's book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales combines an Unreliable Narrator with No Fourth Wall: First, Jack the Narrator spoils the ending of "Little Red Running Shorts", prompting the characters from that story to quit in disgust. Then, Jack's narration of his own story, "Jack's Bean Problem" is immediately interrupted by the premature arrival of the Giant. When the Giant threatens to eat Jack if he can't tell a better story, Jack launches into a recursive story in which the Giant threatens to eat him if he can't tell a better story, so Jack launches into a recursive story in which the Giant threatens to eat him if he can't tell a better story...
    • The giant also says that even if Jack tells a better story, he'll still eat him anyway (ho, ho, ho), leading to the looping story.
  • This is the main trope of the Baron Munchausen stories, both in the original 18th century novel or in any of the various later pastiches. The Terry Gilliam film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen has the final twist that some of the outlandish things he claims are, apparently, true - or at the very least, the Turkish army did lift the siege of Vienna for some unknown reason connected to the Baron, which is good enough for the crowds who had been listening to him.
  • Edgar Allan Poe enjoys this trope:
    • In "The Cask of Amontillado", the narrator claims that he is getting revenge on his nemesis Fortunato for a monstrous insult. However, Fortunato seems to trust the narrator and thinks that they're friends. The narrator never specifies exactly what Fortunato did to him, suggesting that the insult is just an insane delusion.
    • "The Tell-Tale Heart", which has the narrator murdering a man and putting him under the floorboards but giving himself away because he imagines his victim's heart is still beating.
    • "Ligeia," in which the narrator admits that he is under the influence of "an immoderate dose of opium," leaving the reader to wonder if the events of the story are really happening or if they're simply being hallucinated by the narrator.
    • The eponymous narrator of "William Wilson" has been oft suggested by literary critics to be insane, or at least suffering from multiple personality disorder and severe schizophrenia.
  • Daniel Dafoe's fictional memoir Moll Flanders is an early case of a narrator who is unreliable on more than one plane. Superficially, Moll puts herself in the best possible light no matter what, either by glossing over the enormousness of her crimes or by blaming the victims, but her story is also logically inconsistent and ahistorical. She leaves her purportedly well-loved children in Colchester in the 1640s - in other words, in a war zone - to traipse off to America on a whim. Her "older brother", with whom she inadvertently commits incest and has a child, must be younger than her if her mother's story is true. Despite living in London in the 1660s, she does not recall the Plague, the Dutch invasion, or the Great Fire.
  • Fanny Hill also features an unreliable narrator. Fanny's description of prostitution is wildly unrealistic even for the 18th century. Some also see her Convenient Miscarriage as a lie told to cover a Convenient Abortion, as Fanny had been recently deserted by her patron and was broke, owed an astronomical sum to her landlady (an abortionist), and had no way to earn money outside of prostitution - impossible while pregnant in the 1740s. Keep in mind, though, that Cleland wrote Fanny Hill so he could pay his way out of debtor's prison, and he may have written the story based on unrealistic and melodramatic "life stories" told to him by the prostitutes he met in prison which he wasn't experienced enough to see through. In other words, Fanny may have been unreliable despite the writer's intentions, not because of them.
  • Transition by Iain Banks starts like this:

"Apparently I am what is known as an Unreliable Narrator, though of course if you believe everything you're told you deserve whatever you get."


"This is a true story. I was there. When I wasn't, and when I didn't know exactly what was going on -- inside Gurgeh's mind, for example -- I admit that I have not hesitated to make it up. But it's still a true story. Would I lie to you?"

  • The novel John Dies at the End is mostly narrated by one protagonist, David, and the majority of the book involves David recounting unlikely supernatural adventures to a reporter. A small part of the book (involving important events that the narrator didn't witness firsthand) is instead told by David's best friend, John, and this portion has a suspiciously high occurrence of backflips, as well as a chase scene that John resolves by "stealing a nearby horse". As David points out early on, "If you know John, you'll take the details for what they're worth. Please also remember that, where John claims to have 'gotten up at three-thirty' to perform this investigation, it was far more likely he was still up and somewhat drunk from the night before."
    • David himself even admits that his version of events is only "mostly true." And let's not forget, The title is a bold-faced lie.

I did it according to this equation:
l = E x ∞
Which can be translated as "One small lie saves an infinite amount of explanation." I use it all the time. I've used it on you already.

  • The novel An Instance of the Fingerpost has several narrators, all of whom are various varieties of Unreliable Narrator. One is insane, one is a xenophobe who imputes his own nasty motives on to others, one is relatively accurate except where his own identity is concerned, and one is actually a nice guy, but whose perceptions are shaped by the prejudices of the time.
  • Agota Kristof's first Trilogy (The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie) rides this trope like a pogo stick on your spine. It is really an artform the way each of the twins can lie. Even in the first book where they set in conditions that would make it impossible for them to be untruthful about anything they write in the notebook, they still manage to dupe everyone around them - and the reader - more times than could ever be counted. By the end of the third book, it ultimately becomes impossible to tell what about what actually happened due to the web of lies that both Lucas and Claus managed to weave.
  • Daniel Handler's The Basic Eight is told as the recovered journal of Flannery Culp, a girl in jail for the murder of a classmate... as being edited by the same girl for publication. This, coupled with the "poor me" attitude she expresses in the intro, forces the reader to be constantly second-guessing her, noting things that she may be altering to make herself look better. At one point, she believes the killer to be a third party... who turns out to be her imaginary friend. This also means that another character has been present for nearly the entire book, but Flan never saw her.
  • Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita has a similar structure: the story is told by Humbert Humbert from prison, and, addressed to the "ladies and gentlemen of the jury", is intended to act as part of his defense.
  • Another one of Nabokov's novels, Pale Fire, deals with an unreliable narrator in Charles Kinbote. But in Kinbote's case, he is not only narrating multiple stories, he is also interpreting (and misinterpreting) the poem of fellow university professor John Shade.
    • But the above is only true if you assume that John Shade is a real person and that he wrote the poem in the novel. Or if you assume that Kinbote is who he says/thinks he is. You might want to also double-check who has claimed to write what part of the novel.
  • In the The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, much of the eponymous djinni's dry wit is based on his (probably intentionally) transparent attempts to cast himself in a favorable light in the chapters he narrates. This includes frequent (and often ironic) references to his own legendary power and cunning, and constant name-dropping of his past masters (Ptolemy, notably, but also Solomon, Tycho Brahe, Nefertiti, Gilgamesh, etc. etc.) This is all the more obvious since the chapters narrated by Bartimaeus are alternated with chapters of third person narrative focused on the POVs of the other two protagonists, Nathaniel and Kitty, often covering the same events from their perspectives.
    • Especially noticeable on the occasion in the first book in which the events are being told from Bartimaeus's perspective, and he calmly tells Nathaniel to "Just watch and listen." The narrative immediately switches to Nathaniel's (third person) perspective, in which he says "Just shut up and watch!"
    • Bartimaeus: Faquarl wasn't a sly old equivocator like Tchue; he prided himself on blunt speaking. Mind you, he did have a weakness for boasting. If you believed all his stories, you'd have thought him responsible for most of the world's major landmarks as well as being adviser and confidant to all the notable magicians. This, as I once remarked to Solomon, was quite a ridiculous claim.
  • Several times, Greg seems to be treated as a Butt Monkey in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. However; numerous times, he's actually being a bit of a Jerkass himself. This is one of the examples in which the Unreliabl Narrator is actually played for laughs.
  • The Twist Ending of Life of Pi plays with this trope: At the end of the novel, the narrator offers an alternate (and far more disturbing) version of the events thus far, and tells the audience to choose which story they want to believe.
  • House of Leaves: Some confusion comes from multiple literary agents, but when you have at least one instance of one of the literary agents messing around with what another literary agent tells you, it goes beyond confusing. One of the narrators, in fact, admits to making up the events of one chapter entirely, and then laughs at you for believing him.
  • Reams of paper have been written on the narrative technique used in The Brothers Karamazov, which ostensibly makes the narrator out to be a resident of the town, even placing him physically at certain events. It's clear, however, that he knows more than an observer could possibly know, and there are disturbing stretches of the narrative in which the narrator is completely absent, dissolved into the perspective of the characters. This becomes a problem when one character starts speaking with things that probably aren't there, and the critical reader will start to wonder about other times this character supposedly heard things. The real kicker though? The points at which the narrator's reliability are questioned are pivotal moments in the book, moments that affect your understanding of everything that has happened up till then.
    • Similarly in Demons, though in that novel, the narrator is more explicitly party to its events. He has a name (Anton Lavrentievich G-----v, and he is explicitly addressed by a few characters throughout the text), describes himself as a good friend of Stepan Trofimovich Verkhonvensky (one of the central characters), and acknowledges that he used the spectacular events that ensue as the basis for this, his "first novel." Nevertheless, lots of things are described for which he could not possibly have been present (which he handwaves as having been fictionalized from the characters' accounts, related to him later), and especially the unspoken thoughts and inner motivations of several characters strain the bounds of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
  • Oswald Bastable, or at least E. Nesbit's version of him.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The story is told by Chief Bromden, who is schizophrenic. While the story is supposed to be true, he adds in plenty of insane, paranoid delusions. On the other hand, any student of American History with an understanding of the issues involved in the history of the Plains Indian tribes can see just how accurate the alleged delusions of Chief Bromden are.

But it's the truth even if it didn't happen.

    • The author, Ken Kesey, played with this idea further in his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, which is narrated at various points by at least a half-dozen different people. Each different person sheds new light on (or changes the facts in) previously shared events in a way which reflects their own views and interests, shifting the reader's sympathies in various conflicts several times.
  • Henry James's novella The Turn of the Screw: Are the ghosts real or simply the narrator's imagination?
  • Robert Pirsig's novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance deals, partly, with the unnamed narrator's attempt to stave off the re-emergence of his former "insane" personality, nicknamed "Phaedrus," and thereby protect his young son from sinking into madness himself. However, in the end, he realizes that "Phaedrus" is in fact the saner and more authentic personality, whereas his "normal" self is a facade which has in fact caused his son's mental problems. When he embraces and integrates his Phaedrus-self, father and son are healed and reconciled.
  • In The Eyes Of My Princess by Carlos Cuauhtemoc Sanchez, you are led to believe that the book is a about a love story that ended in the death of the protagonist's girlfriend. But then, almost at the end, you find out that nothing that happen after a specific event was real. The protagonist wrote fake entries into his diary, because he was disappointed about his crush's real personality.
  • Gene Wolfe is the undisputed master of this trope. If one of his novels is narrated in the first person it is guaranteed to contain incomplete, inaccurate or just missing information that the reader will have to figure out in order to make sense of the story.
    • In The Book of the Short Sun, there's one point where the narrator throws himself on the mercy of the reader for having lied to them, then proceeds to retell a completely different version of the events of the previous chapter. Just in case you hadn't figured out yet what was going on.
    • Some more examples, his book Soldier in the Mist gives us Latro, a Roman mercenary who receives a head injury that completely destroys his short term memory beyond a 10-12 hour window. So the book consists of his adventures where he is constantly re-introducing himself to certain characters, some of whom try to take advantage of his disability. On the flip side, Latro can see and interact with the spirit world, so he often runs into gods and mythical creatures. The polar opposite is Severian, from the Book of the New Sun. He claims to have perfect recollection his entire life. Careful reading will lead the reader to conclude he either does not, or he is purposely trying to mislead the reader, but keeps contradicting himself.
    • Severian is perhaps the least reliable narrator ever; unreliable because (by his own claim) he is unsure whether he was merely a man doing a necessary job well or a violent sadist, whether he was a rapist or a genuine lover (he should know this by the end, because he has a copy of her personality, memories and thoughts in his head for most of the book) and/or whether he was, basically, the second coming of Jesus or not. The unintentional time-travel incest and meeting between three and five other versions of himself can't help.
    • The Fifth Head of Cerberus uses this in several forms. The narrator in the titular first story spends quite some time in a fugue state resulting in ever-longer growing memory gaps, some of them several months long. The second story is narrated by John Marsch, a character in the first and third stories, who claims to have heard the story from another character (V. R. T.) who might have very good reasons to lie to him. The third story is from John Marschs diary and ties in with the other two stories, but has some inconsistencies that cast serious doubts on the reliability of Marsch as a narrator. A recurring theme in all three stories is the nature of identity (both cultural and personal), and the narrative inconsistencies play a big role in figuring out the overarching mystery.
    • "Seven American Days" may be the height of this trope in Wolfe's oeuvre. First, the author of the travelogue that makes up the story states at one point that he altered the text for fear of it being read by the American secret police. Second, the author placed some hallucinogen into a candy egg, then mixed up the eggs so he wouldn't know which one was the real one. Then he ate a single egg every night. That means that at least one of his nights of experiences could have been a hallucination. And one of the eggs got stolen, so it was also possible the none of the nights were a hallucination. Finally, at the end of the story, the author of the travelogue's mother, who had been the one reading it (along with his fiancee), calls into question the veracity of the handwriting. So it's possible the entire thing is a forgery, or at the very least important parts.
  • Likewise Michael Moorcock's Colonel Pyat series.
  • Likewise, the works of Jim Thompson. A Hell of a Woman is a prime example, wherein the main character's personality splits halfway through the tale and begins telling the story in parallel paths, one an idealistic version of what happened and the other, presumably, the real story.
  • In the Ciaphas Cain novels, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the story is told from the point of view of Ciaphas Cain - and annotated by the Inquisitor, Amberley Vail, who constantly reminds the reader in her footnotes that Ciaphas is an habitual liar, and there are too many holes that can't be backed up by other sources for this story to be taken at face value. There's also some unreliability in the way Cain downplays all of his acts of heroism, saying that they were all just to protect his own skin or his reputation, but Amberly steps in every once in a while to point out that Cain gives himself far too little credit.
    • Sandy Mitchell has stated that he doesn't know if Cain is the kind-hearted Dirty Coward he claims to be, or a genuine hero with an inferiority complex.
    • An interesting case where this is a minor plot point is the fact that Cain is predominantly concerned with things that happened directly to him. This results in Inquisitor/Editor-In-Chief Amberly Vail having to consult other people's memoirs to fill in Plot Holes, and, as she notes, they tend to have their own problems too. For instance, Jenit Sulla was serving in the the Valhallan 597th (the unit Cain was most often attached to) and is the best secondary record of his actions, but writes in bombastic Purple Prose and portrays Cain as the mighty world-bestriding hero everyone believes him to be, and a book named Purge the Unclean! provides a good overview on the setting and wider conflict in For The Emperor, but the author blames absolutely everything on a conspiracy of rogue traders.
      • And for extra fun, the character editing the books has a tendency to cut out the bits that don't make her, the editor, look good. Which includes (probably) sleeping with the self-confessed coward.
  • The Dune Encyclopedia about the Dune series is a big example of this. It is framed as an Encyclopedia within the Dune universe, purportedly 5,000 years after the events of the first novel and after the historical record has been greatly altered or lost. Several of the entries either contradict or give a different perspective on the events of the novels. It is up to the reader to determine what account, if any, "really" happened.
    • Particularly interesting is the brief chronological timeline linking "our" time to the setting in Dune. The fictional authors of the Encyclopedia have an idea of what happened in their "distant past" ... but it's heavily filtered through the experience of thousands of years of living in a feudal system of government. World War 2, for example, is referred to as a "commercial dispute between House Washington and House Tokyo" within a British Empire that supposedly ruled almost the entire world.
  • In Wuthering Heights, there are two main narrators. Mr Lockwood who is telling us the story, and Ellen Dean who is telling him about Heathcliff. Lockwood is shown very early on to be unreliable as he describes Heathcliff as a "capital fellow", only to later learn that that is really not the case. Ellen 'Nelly' Dean herself is full of biased opinions, and is very judgemental of most of the other characters. Since pretty much every revelation in the book is made whilst Nelly is telling Lockwood the history of the Heights, it is a possibility that she just made the whole thing up. She is also unreliable as a character, as she happily spills all of the people who confided in her's personal details and secrets to a complete stranger with little hesitation.
  • Matthew Kneale's novel English Passengers is told from the perspective of at least a dozen different narrators. All of their accounts are of varying degrees of reliability, and many are clearly carefully editing or embellishing their stories to make themselves look better or to support their own prejudices.
  • Elizabeth Peters uses a mild version of this in the Amelia Peabody novels as a form of wry humor. The books are primarily in the first person, and purport to be journal entries. Mild comic irony is created through what the narrator leaves out, misinterprets, plays down, or is clearly deluding herself on. The narrator's depth stems from her unreliability as a narrator, which can be due to either omission or equivocation. She reports her perceptions, but despite her vaunted skills in understanding people, she routinely misses the actual meaning of events; for example, when people speaking with her begin coughing, she totally misses their disguised laughter and offers them cough drops. She also is often oblivious to her own viewpoints and prejudices, and even when she is aware of them, pride stops her from relating them to the reader. Victorian sensibilities also prevent her from discussing delicate subjects.
  • Atonement - the story seems to end beautifully with the wronged protagonists united idyllically. It is then revealed that the story read so far is written by another character, Briony, who changes the ending to try and atone for wrong she wrecked on the protagonists who really die lonely and apart.
  • Brilliantly done in the novel Dead Romance, by Lawrence Miles. The Narrator freely admits she has a serious drug problem, and even hangs a lampshade when she takes a time out from describing an alien invasion to muse on the possibility that she's on the worst acid trip of her life.

"Maybe this whole book's just a list of the states of mind I was in when I wrote it, like a catalogue of all the things I've been putting into my system. Paranoia for cocaine. Multicoloured planets for acid. I'll be relaxed again soon, so you'll think I'm writing it on dope."

  • Done in Tales of MU, where the narrator Mackenzie isn't lying to the audience—just frequently clueless or in deep denial. It's written so that the audience almost always knows what's going on even if she doesn't, which is sometimes subtle (the slow build-up to the revelation about Steff) and other times obvious (her overwrought Foe Yay-based crush on the Alpha Bitch, Sooni).
    • Additionally, the MUnivers's history is also handled this way; so far, we've heard multiple accounts of the creation of the world, all of which contradict each other. But the kicker is that the gods exist, and semi-regularly involve themselves in worldly affairs, meaning that the gods themselves are Unreliable Narrators.
  • Done excellently in Jeff Vandermeer's Ambergris books. Shriek: An Afterword features two conflicting viewpoint characters, while City Of Saints And Madmen features stories set in Ambergris, stories written by various Ambergris residents, a story about an Alternate Universe Jeff Vandermeer who gets sucked into Ambergris and goes crazy (or believes he is an author in an alternate universe resembling our own, or just decided to fuck with our heads) and stories penned in the name of various Ambergris residents but actually written by said alternate-universe Author Surrogate. And a couple of pamphlets.
    • And adding to the confusion, the pamphlet King Squid and the Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris" actually were written by real Ambergrisians-Frederick Madnok and Duncan Shriek, to be exact. So whose copy was used?
    • It's also done to a far lesser extent in the sequel Shriek: An Afterword, which is written by Duncan's sister Janice. She holds that she is offering a balanced yet opinionated account of her brother's life. Duncan takes issue with the first claim, and frequently disagrees with her over the course of the book.
  • The unreliable first-person narrator of Elizabeth Bear's Blood and Iron is so unreliable that, for the first third or so of the book, she narrates everything in third person, including scenes in which she herself is present. (It works, but this is definitely the Don't Try This At Home school of writing.)
  • Diana Wynne Jones's The Dalemark Quartet has an unreliable glossary on the history of Dalemark at the back of each book. Much of what it says is straightforward and fills in background to the story, but frequently it puts a slant on historical events which the reader can deduce to be wrong or at least incomplete.
  • If you're reading an Alistair Mac Lean novel written in the first person, you're dealing with this trope.
  • There is a consistency to some of the facts in Only Revolutions. That is, certain events don't change between the two viewpoints the book is narrated from. However, for the vast majority of details, like names and places, those shift even in the same story. Is the Italian cook's name Viatitonacci or Viazazonacci or Viapiponacci? Is he even Italian? I don't know!
  • Starship Troopers: There are places where Rico is likely describing something that happened to him in the third-person. The biggest one involves the death of the Lieutenant in his beloved Rascak's Roughnecks MI unit, where he describes the Lieutenant saving two privates before being killed. It's hinted that one of them was probably Rico.
  • Nicely done in an understated way in Dorothy L. Sayers' The Documents in the Case. A series of letters written by each of the main characters to various other people are collected. Each person describes incidents from their point of view, each person showing themselves as paragons of virtue surrounded by fallible fools.
  • In Dean Koontz's book Odd Thomas, Odd specifically says that he was asked to be an unreliable narrator, citing Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but indicating he doesn't really want to do that. In the end, though, Odd says that he really has been misrepresenting things; whenever he said he and his girlfriend Stormy were destined for each other, he was speaking as his past self; by the end of the book Stormy is dead and they obviously are not living happily ever after.
    • He handwaves the whole sequence at the end by saying that both his parents are insane, and he expects madness runs in his family.
  • James Clemens' The Banned and the Banished discusses this trope - the narrator admits that he has told many fake versions of that story, but cannot die until he tells the truth. I can't give a full account, however, because I never finished the series.
  • Holden from The Catcher in The Rye is a good example. The novel is about his downward spiral into emotional trauma, but he doesn't tell the reader this and lies about how he was feeling by making excuses of "just didn't feel like it," or the like.
    • There's also the fact that most of the things he says shouldn't always be taken seriously, like people like Chapman have. One minute he's putting down the movie business and then the next he's recommending one of his favorites. Usually the people he calls "phonies" sometimes do the same things he does.
    • He actually hangs a lampshade on it within the first chapter.

"I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible."

  • At one point in The Things They Carried, the narrator retells a story told to him by the squad's medic, Rat Kiley, prefacing it with the admission that though Kiley's stories always have a basis in truth, they are often greatly exaggerated, stating that "If Rat told you he slept with two women on a particular night, you can be safe in assuming one and a half." At another point, the narrator goes on a long rant about how a war stories' veracity has no relation to whether or not it actually occurred, and goes on to tell a "true" war story that he made up on the spot. He then states that the mark of a "true" war story is that the reader does not care if it is true.
    • On another occasion, he recounts a story about another of the soldiers in his unit, which he later admits was actually him.
    • Well, it is postmodern...
    • Also found in Going After Cacciato by the same author. About halfway through the book, you realize that Paul Berlin is probably still in the observation tower, and the whole story is just a daydream to excuse himself of complicity in the death of Cacciato, who (it appears) the squad killed to hush him up. But again, it's postmodern, so the question is: does any of this matter?
  • Spider by Patrick McGrath, is narrated by the main character, who is insane. At the end of the book it turns out practically everything he recollected to the reader was heavily warped by his perception.
    • McGrath specializes in this trope. Asylum is another excellent example.
  • In three books of The Dresden Files so far, Harry's narration is made unreliable by various magical influences. The first is in Dead Beat, when Lasciel's shadow in Dead Beat appears to him repeatedly in the form of "Sheila," a bookstore employee who doesn't actually exist. The second is in Small Favor, in which Mab takes his blasting rod (his weapon of choice in the series up to that point) and places a mental block which prevents him from even thinking about it or fire magic. The third instance is revealed in Ghost Story: in the previous novel, after deciding to become the Winter Knight, Harry set up his own assassination and then had Molly wipe his memory of doing so in order to keep Mab from becoming aware of it.
  • Robert Irwin's brilliant Satan Wants Me is built around this trope. The narrator, Peter, is a young sociology student who likes sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, studies children's behavior in a school playground, and is attempting to be accepted into a magical lodge. Part of the requirements made of him in Black Book Lodge is to keep a diary for magical purposes, writing down everything that happened during the day. Satan Wants Me is, essentially, this diary - until in the middle of the book we find out that this young sociologist's real object of study are the occultists themselves, and after his cover is blown he keeps on writing the diary just because and because his hand makes him write sometimes.
  • Robert Bloch's classic short story Yours Truly Jack The Ripper is a great example. Set in the modern day, the first-person narrator relates an incident in which a friend of his becomes convinced that Jack the Ripper killed all those women as part of an occult ceremony to attain immortality. He assists his friend in his investigations and helps him track suspects but the big twist is that the narrator himself is Jack the Ripper, and while his friend's theory was correct, he had the wrong suspect. This is revealed in the final line of the story when the narrator, holding a knife, says, "Just call me... Jack!" Bloch never cheats - you can re-read the story knowing the ending, and it remains internally consistent, although it changes from an odd little comedy to a chilling thriller.
  • Don Quixote is one Unreliable Narrator telling a story received from another Unreliable Narrator to the point that you simply can't know if any of the story really ever happened or is all just fantasy. It gets even funnier when you take into account the non-canon "sequel" that was written by a different author before Cervantes finished the second part.
    • Played completely straight and even lampshaded: In the very first paragraph, Don Quixote's literary portrait has the narrator NOT telling us the name of Don Quixote's town, and the narrator admits he doesn't know very well if his name was Quixada, Quesada or Quexana. For the people of the seventeen century, this was an infringement of a very well known rule of the literary portrait, and so they immediately had the real impression that the author was a liar. Also, the original author (Cide Hamete Benengeli) and the Translator (an anonymous moor) comment the text when the plot is being implausible, and the second author (Cervantes), constantly remind us that this is a true history. All these tricks show that Cervantes clearly want the reader realizes that this tale cannot be true.
  • Done very well in the novel The Family of Pascual Duarte, from Spanish author Camilo José Cela. Basically it tells the story of an unnamed editor(1) who finds and corrects the "memoirs" that he found in an old church, adressed to a bishop (2), who made a lot of censorship and correction on them beforehand, by Pascual Duarte (3), who admits that he mixed a lot of facts when writting them, along with the more stealthy: a) non linear narration of the events, b) subjectivization and constant disgression to gain the favor of the reader and c) manipulation of the contents because of real life problems (lack of paper, tripped and mixed the pages, etc.). The purpose of the "memoirs"? to gain clerical pardon, staving off his imminent execution.
    • That's right, guys. An editor who edits an editor who edits the edited version of Pascual's life. It is subtly implied by the end of the book that the real life author in fact "edited" the story himself, making him another step in the long line of editors the book will have (publisher's editors, academic editors, "reader editor", etc.). This, by context, was a sort of Take That to Franquism, along with a few subtle political/social references/criticism (which make a big part of the novel objective).
  • Wilkie Collins, the narrator of Dan Simmons' Drood, happens to be addicted to laudanum. Not to mention that Charles Dickens mesmerizes him a few pages in and never gets around to unmesmerizing him. Oops!
  • H. P. Lovecraft's stories are usually narrated from a first-person point of view by said stories' main characters. The unreliability of the narrators may range from becoming increasingly maddened as the narration progresses to seemingly sane persons questioning their own sanity and the quality of their recollections as they recall a horrific experience they lived through. Lovecraft also had a penchant for having some of his stories' narrators narrating from mental asylums. In The Temple, the narrator is a German submarine commander in World War I, who steadfastly refuses to believe in anything supernatural, and instead he's sure that he went insane and became an Unreliable Narrator.
    • Lovecraft loved (no pun intended) to play the Refuge In Insanity card when his characters faced an Eldritch Abomination or related supernatural phenomenon. One could say that a lot of his stories can be a form of this Aesop: "If you ever see the Truth, run. For it has many tentacles."
  • Corwin, the narrator of The Chronicles of Amber, for almost the entire series is telling the story to Merlin, giving Corwin numerous reasons to distort, add, or omit events. Added to this, Corwin is suffering from amnesia at the beginning of the story.
  • Played with quite a bit in Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander series.
    • Early on the aphorism "Today's wardroom joint is tomorrow's messdeck stew" is introduced. Meaning that anything officers discuss today will be hazily retold by the crew tomorrow.
    • Usually O'Brien gives both reliable and unreliable versions of events to contrast them, but occasionally only the crew's version will be told. Leaving the reader guessing as to what actually happened.
  • Ernesto Sabato's On Heroes and Tombs has a self-containing chapter, Report on the blind. It's about a man who believes the world is being controlled by a cabal of blind people and tries to locate their secret lair under the streets of Buenos Aires. Due to the fantastical nature of his story, in contrast with the realism of the rest of the book, it's impossible to know what was true and what was just a paranoid delusion.
  • Dom Casmurro, from Machado de Assis, a most famous realist Brazilian writer, has an interesting case. For a long time it was considered that the protagonist, who's the narrator, was simply and clearly cheated on by his wife, and that he himself as a character was completely just in his actions. Only long after his death it has become common knowledge (among professional critics at least) that the fact is, not only is Dr. Bento, the protagonist, in possession of a failing memory (he commits many continuity errors, AND lets it slip a few times as he complains about his memory), but is also a lawyer (no further explanation needed, really... but) and he's paranoid. Those all add up for a really unreliable narrator who struggles to remember simple facts, sees things that aren't really there AND wants the reader's approval.
    • It is also noteworthy to mention that pretty much every single first-person narrator from Machado de Assis is unreliable, with a single extraordinary exception. Really extraordinary. In The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas the narrator is somewhat a lot more reliable than any other for a simple fact: He's dead. As such, he doesn't care about his life anymore and doesn't knowingly deceives the reader. However, as he narrates, he sometimes stumbles at points where he had lied to himself, and even in death he keeps the rationale of life about his personal thoughts, like his rationalization as to why he didn't go through with his relationship with Eugenia (she was poor and he was not, he convinced himself it was because she had a lame leg) and how he regretted paying a few silver coins to a black man who saved his life (because he didn't like parting with money, but he convinced himself it was because the man didn't want any reward).
  • I, Jedi is made of this trope. Basically, Corran has an internal dialogue along the lines of "She so wants me, I must remain faithful to Mirax!" with every female character.
  • Apparently Douglas Adams retconned the divergences between the book, radio show, TV show, stage play, etc. of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by explaining that the source of the accounts was Zaphod Beeblebrox, about as unreliable as a narrator can get, who never remembered the story the same way twice.
    • One section of the radio series, involving Zaphod's incredible escape from a particularly nasty fate, is explicitly based on Zaphod's own account. It begins:

Many stories are told of Zaphod Beeblebrox's journey to the Frogstar. Ten percent of them are ninety-five percent true, fourteen percent of them are sixty-five percent true, thirty-five percent of them are only five percent true, and all the rest of them are told by Zaphod Beeblebrox.

    • Approximately half of the first series of the radio drama was negated when Trillian dismissed the storyarc as one of Zaphod's psychotic episodes.
  • The beginning of The Lace Reader indicates that the main character is not a reliable narrator.

(Opening lines.) "My name is Towner Whitney. Well, that's not exactly true. My first name is Sophya. I lie a lot. Never believe me."

    • And the book gets less reliable from there. In the end, it is revealed that her twin sister Lyndley's suicide, which drove her motivations throughout the book, never happened; her real sister's name was Lindsey, and she died before she was born. Mae did not give her up to Emma, Mae never was her real mother in the first place, Emma was. Cal's abuse of Lyndley was actually directed at Towner. Besides these revelations, it's nearly impossible to tell what else the narrator might have lied about.
  • To a degree, Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby - most events that he describes you can accept are true, but there's one point where he claims to have said something to Gatsby that it's possible he merely wishes he'd said. It also seems possible that he's intentionally omitted some pieces of information about Gatsby due to his desire to see and portray Gatsby as in a favourable light.
    • And then there's the scene when Nick gets drunk and starts losing time. It starts with "keep your hands off the lever" and somehow jumps to "[Mr. Mc Kee] was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear". The reader is left to wonder if Nick is gay or bisexual, but Nick never mentions it (he probably doesn't know what happened either).
    • Also, one of the first things he says is how nonjudgmental he is. Followed by about 200 pages in which he leaves pretty much no other character unjudged. Cleverly mocked in Hark! A Vagrant here (7th strip down).
      • In fact, Nick explicitly states that the reason he doesn't judge people is essentially because it's not their fault that they're morally inferior to him.
  • Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past/In Search of Lost Time consists of thousands upon thousands of pages of this trope. "Marcel" never explicitly acknowledges that he is unreliable, but constantly undermines his own recollections such that it's impossible to trust anything he says 100%. Of course, the entire series is an exploration of the nature and limits of memory, so yeah.
  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four a secret book of the Fraternity gives some knowledge of that world. Here's a problem: the book was written by O'Brien, a member of the Inner Party. So it's not a "leaked truth", it's allowed "truth".
    • Compounding this, orthodox Party members are supposed to be able to genuinely believe the Party Line, no matter how often it changes ("doublethink"). O'Brien says he (co-)wrote The Book, but did he really? Everything we hear from O'Brien is suspect, and we have no idea how reliable The Book is. We can be sure about very little in Oceania.
  • The young woman who narrates Sabina Murray's A Carnivore's Inquiry finds that her travels are accompanied by multiple murders, usually involving some sort of horrific mutilation. The end of the novel strongly implies that the book's real title should have been A Cannibal's Inquiry.
  • Melanie Rawn uses this one to interesting effect in her Mageborn trilogy. While not apparent on a casual reading it's pretty clear that Collan's background doesn't quite add up. The only certain thing is that Gorynel Desse had something to do with it.
    • Actually it's easier to count the things Gorynel Desse hasn't been running from behind the scenes, wily Chessmaster that he is.
  • The teen series DRAMA! provides a subtle example. The narrator, Bryan, never outright lies to the audience, but he clearly interprets events based on his own preconceptions. For example, he goes out of his way to tell the readers what a jerk Eric Whitman is. Over the course of the series, it becomes obvious that Eric is actually an incredibly nice guy, almost to the point of being a Canon Sue. What's interesting is that this highlights Bryan's emotional growth. By the end of the series, he admits that he was being unfair.
  • PG Wodehouse once collected story ideas and kept getting ones that were simply too absurd to be used. Then he had the brilliant idea of putting them all in the mouth of Mr. Mulliner, a fisherman spinning yarns at his local pub, who wouldn't be believed anyway.
  • Within the context of the novel, Bram Stoker's Dracula exists as a series of transcriptions of letters and newspaper clippings about the eponymous vampire; about midway through the novel, Dracula destroys the originals by tossing them into a fireplace in order to discredit the protagonists should they ever wish to make their story public. The transcriptions are kept by Mina Harker, a trained secretary, who foresees the usefulness in keeping backups. However, Mina herself undergoes some pretty severe trauma throughout the course of the novel; apart from the whole vampire-hunting thing, her best friend is turned by Dracula (and then staked by her friends), and she very narrowly escapes being turned into a vampire herself, which brings her mental state and her reliability as a recordkeeper into question.
  • Read Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for a comedic (if archaically sexist) take on this trope.
  • In Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, the narrator, Gen, tells the story in such a way that the reader assumes he is an ignorant, dirt-poor, none-too-bright street thief being forced to help the other characters steal a precious artifact. Only at the end does it become clear that though Gen has never actually lied in his telling of the story, certain omissions and misdirections have allowed him to obscure the fact that he is a queen's cousin, a hereditary master thief, and the highly intelligent orchestrator of everything that has occurred in the story thus far.
    • This continues in the sequels, as characters interpret Gen's actions without knowing what is really going on is his head. This leads to some very interesting bits of confusion, though Attolia can be forgiven for not realizing that the man she mutilated is still completely in love with her.
  • The Hobbit has a somewhat odd example of this. In the first edition, Gollum bets his Ring in the riddle game with Bilbo. After JRR Tolkien decided to set it in Middle-earth and write The Lord of the Rings as a sequel, this didn't fit with the concept of the Ring. So for the second edition of The Hobbit, he RetConed the riddle game part of the story was changed to the "true" version of events. His explanation for the first edition? Bilbo was lying to legitimize his ownership of the Ring! He even obliquely apologizes for that in The Fellowship of the Ring, at the Council of Elrond.
  • One of the central conceits of Isaac Asimov's "Azazel" short stories is that they're being told to an Author Avatar of Asimov by an Unreliable Narrator who may or may not just be making them up entirely.
  • Nick Cave's And The Ass Saw the Angel starts out as a peculiar Magic Realist work, but as we go on, the narrator has occasional complete blackouts, leading us to wonder how many of the supposedly Magic Realist events were in his mind. To reinforce the theme of subjectivity, the entire narrative is written in Funetik Aksent.
  • Justine Larbalestier's Liar. It's so bad that she actually lies about lying. First she mentions her brother Jordan often, then she says she made him up, then she mentions that he did exist but he died.
    • To the point where she says she's not even sure what really happened at the end.
  • The novel The Amnesia Clinic runs on this. Thematically, it's all about storytelling and liars, and for certain sequences it's unclear what versions of what we're told are true. For example, first we read about Anti's seduction by a quirky Manic Pixie Dream Girl marine biologist who renamed herself Sally Lightfoot after a bad divorce and lost her ring finger to a snapping turtle. The second time the story's told, it's recounted by Anti as all being one big lie fabricated to make his best friend Fabian jealous; the woman he named Sally Lightfoot was cold and distant, the two weren't even friends, and she had her ring finger cut off with a kitchen knife by her abusive husband. The rest, including the seduction, was a lie Anti told to make Fabian jealous, and to make reality a little less boring.
  • The Dragaera books by Steven Brust:
    • Vlad Taltos is an honest narrator, but in Dzur it turns out that some of his memories have been altered by the Demon Goddess Verra, putting his recollections into question. Sometimes he also just misunderstands things, such as calling the Countess of Whitecrest a Lyorn, when she's really a Tiassa who dresses in Lyorn colors.
    • Orca applies the trope to Kiera. The story is told from her perspective, and it's in this story that we learn that she's actually an alternate identity for Sethra, the Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. Until another character figures it out, Kiera's narration does not overtly betray her secret.
    • Paarfi of Roundwood, the narrator of Khavraan Romances, is a historical novelist who is dramatizing real events within his world. Brust has stated that Paarfi gets plenty of details wrong and sometimes just makes things up. Certain characters behave very differently within Paarfi's stories than how they behave in Vlad's recollections.
    • One notable contrast of unreliable narrators is the conflict between Aerich and a lowly Teckla, which is given dramatically different tellings by Paarfi and the Teckla himself in different books. According to the Teckla, it was an epic duel, while according to Paarfi, the Teckla scampers off after little more than a lordly glare from Aerich.
  • Sarah Caudwell's (very funny) four legal mysteries are narrated by Hilary Tamar (of unknown gender). While the stories can be considered 'accurate' the narrator's roles and motivations are always given a very shiny gloss (I just happened to need a book in that room, and I just happened to need one that was low down behind the sofa. Oh no, now they've entered the room and started talking about the mystery without realising that I'm here).
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough For Love is a (sort of) autobiography of immortal(?) Lazarus Long. Long himself states in the book that some of the details may or may not be true. A later book, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, has the lead character state out right that Lazarus had lied all through the book.
    • At one point in TEFL, Long offers to tell the true story of what happened to the Jockaira from Methuselah's Children; another character declines to hear it, asserting that the story is already in the Howard Families archives "in four conflicting versions".
    • Heinlein could be said to be the Unreliable Narrator of his own life: for decades fans accepted, without question, his assertion that "Life-Line" was the first work of fiction he'd written (it wasn't) and that he'd written it for a contest (he hadn't).
  • This is thoroughly and effectively explored in James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner. The eponymous memoir is framed as a Fictional Document. The Sinner himself is a religious fanatic who portrays himself as a righteous Calvinist martyr and the people he's killed as horrible, horrible people. He's seemingly helped by the Devil himself, but then again, he might just be insane. The editor who researches the events in the Sinner's journal exposes many falsehoods and contradictions, but he himself isn't completely reliable either - because of his strictly rationalist outlook, he cannot reconcile the seemingly supernatural events described and tries to explain them away, even though some things don't quite make sense as a result.
  • "The Repairer of Reputations", a part of the The King in Yellow features this, when it is discovered that narrator died in an asylum the previous day, large portions of plot become extremely questionable.
  • James Tiptree, Jr.'s The Women Men Don't See is narrated by a super-manly shadowy ex-spy Mighty Whitey who thinks he knows what kind of story he's in—after the plane crashes, he's going to assume leadership and save the female passengers in the plane crash with the help of the obedient Maya pilot. He's utterly, utterly wrong, and you have to read around the edges of his ego and his narration to figure out what's actually going on. (A good critical essay describing the technique is over here.)
  • Tom Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie. He seems reliable until he abandons Amanda and Laura. That, combined with his final speech, demonstrate that he has strong motives to justify his actions and put himself in a positive light. In fact, we only see the ending of the play from Tom's perspective - and even though it is somewhat sad, it's suspiciously redemptive for everyone. Also, if Tom was in the right, why is his conscience plagued by memories of Laura?
  • One potential reading of Robinson Crusoe is that the Unfortunate Implications of the Manservant Friday are the result of the unreliable narrator. This may just be the literary equivalent of Wild Mass Guessing, however.
  • A short story, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman features a narrator who is unreliable on all levels. Is she driven to insanity? Is she already insane from the beginning? Is the house actually haunted? Is she actually dead? If she isn't insane upon her arrival, at what point in the story does she turn insane? Are the peripheral characters of the story real, figments of her imagination entirely, ghosts, or real but turned into different characters via her delusion? Are any of her observations trustworthy, such as the description of her room and reasons why there are bars on the windows and hooks and rings in the walls? There is evidence to support any of the possible theories, and, since the narrator actually is insane by the end of the story, absolutely none of the questions are answered.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: One of the most famous unreliable narrators ever breaks the fourth wall and hangs a lampshade on it in the very first paragraph.

"You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly -- Tom's Aunt Polly, she is -- and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before."

  • Kafka. Due to his famous style, he's able to directly contradict himself within the same sentence, AND make it so subtle that a casual or superficial reader will scarcely notice. The Metamorphosis and The Judgment stand out in this respect.
  • Most of the POV characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are reliable, if biased, narrators, but there's one interesting instance of true unreliability: Sansa's frequent "recollections" of Sandor Clegane kissing her during the Battle of the Blackwater. Which would be understandable, if in fact he had. During the actual scene, "for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her," but he does not; by the next book she's making occasional references to the kiss occurring, and by the fourth, she can recall how the kiss felt. Word of God confirms that it's all in her head. This is typically seen as a hint that she's subconsciously falling for the Hound.
    • Sansa's misremembering what happened with Sandor is an indication that she's been so emotionally traumatized by the abuse heaped on her that she clings to the memory of someone who she saw as a protector in King's Landing, even though the kiss never happened and in fact he almost raped her.
    • It's also worth comparing different POVs of the same character: compare Catelyn's chapter with Jaime in A Clash of Kings, where he comes off as an obnoxious, egotistical Jerkass, and Jaime's own first chapter in A Storm of Swords where he becomes bitter, biting, and well-aware of his own limits. Jon Snow has a similar disconnect; in his own chapters he reads like The Fettered, but from Samwell's POV he's an exhausted Anti-Hero. And then there's Stannis (whose head we've not got in as of yet), who from Catelyn's POV is a dour jerk, from Davos' POV is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, and from Jon's POV is To Be Lawful or Good. When we see Littlefinger from Catelyn's perspective, we feel bad for him, in Ned's, he seems like a Smug Snake, and Tyrion consideres him a formidable foe, but it's not until Sansa meets him that it's clear how utterly slimy he his. It should be interesting to see how other characters view Daenerys when they finally cross paths with her...
  • C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. The book is an Epistolary Novel made up of letters written by a demon, so of course he's more than willing to twist the truth to his own ends.
  • I, Lucifer can likely claim having one of if not the most unreliable narrator a person could hope to find in Lucifer himself. Well, The Bible was admittedly one-sided.
  • Pretty much anything by Christopher Priest. The Affirmation is pretty notorious for this: the narrator did not spend weeks cleaning up and repainting the summer house he was staying at, he never actually wrote his memoirs, and it is never clear if he was from London and invented Jethra or vice-versa. Same goes for The Prestige, where one of the character's memoirs is actually written by a set of twins. Even The Inverted World plays with the trope, though there it's more because the narrator doesn't understand the nature of his own world.
  • The Caitlin Kiernan novel The Red Tree takes this trope Up to Eleven with not just one but at least three and at some points five levels of unreliable narration. First, there is the main character Sarah: the story is told in the form of her journal, and she's clearly losing it (a note at the beginning mentions she killed herself after the events in the story). Then there is the unknown person who collected Sarah's journal and mailed it to her editor. Finally, there is the editor herself, who is distinctly coy in her note about any details that might confirm or deny Sarah's story. If that weren't enough, there are long sections of the book where Sarah is supposedly quoting from a manuscript she found. The author of this manuscript is also of questionable sanity, and there are several places where he is quoting from sources of questionable veracity. Not only is it impossible to tell if anything in this book actually happened outside anyone's imagination, it isn't even possible to tell whose imagination it might have been. It works, though.
  • In the fourth book of Gulliver's Travels our protagonist tells us how wonderful and enlightened the horse creatures he met are, but reveals a number of facts about them with unfortunate implications. They are dispassionate and clinical, showing little affection towards their children (who are passed off to others who cannot conceive if this is more efficient), are repulsed by the concept of creativity (they believe words are only for conveying information) and have total disgust for the primitive, bestial Yahoos with which they share their land, and routinely discuss the possibility of exterminating them. They cast out Gulliver for his resemblence to the Yahoos but he remains totally in awe of them, cannot stand to even look at his family for the same reason and spends his time talking to horses. His total misanthropy at the end suggests he may not be a reliable commentator.
      • It's explained that it's not that they don't feel any love for their children - they just love everyone as much as they love their own children, so someone down the street is as dear to them as their new-born foal.
    • Here the moral could be the need to strike a balance between excessive detachment (represented the horse-people) and primal emotions (represented by the Yahoos).
    • Gulliver does something similar in book 2, where Gulliver's attitudes are used to satirise those prevalent in Swift's England.
  • Ikkun from Nisioisin's Kubishime Romanticist never outright lied to the reader, but frequently left out important details, such as the reason he was feeling sick upon seeing Mikoko's body. It was because he had eaten the evidence that would incriminate her as the murderer, and only because he had been the one to drive her to suicide in the first place.
  • In Tall Tale America the author claims that the entire book is a true story and goes into detail about all the trustworthy sources he consulted in putting it together. Then he says, "And on top of all this, I've made improvements of my own all along the way - fixed up fact after fact to make it truer than it ever was before."
  • Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of the first modern uses of the unreliable narrator, though it's not the Trope Maker since Arabian Nights and The Canterbury Tales employed it long before.
  • The beginning of Number 9 Dream features the narrator recounting a bunch of crazy action-movie adventures that turn out not to have happened. Once you get to the meat of the story this habit seems to stop, but given the narrator's established tendency to mix fact with fantasy and the many things he accomplishes over the course of the book, from the plausible-yet-mildly-improbable (finding his Disappeared Dad by complete coincidence, patching things up with his estranged mother, dating a beautiful musical prodigy (despite being kind of a loser himself)) to the cinematically unlikely (surviving being thrown into the middle of a conflict between two Yakuza factions, being instrumental in exposing a huge organization of organ thieves using a document given to him by a mysterious private detective he met only once and a program given to him by a friend who happens to be a master hacker who's just been scouted by the American government after hacking into their most secret files), the reader is left wondering whether any of it actually happened.
  • Kyon from the Haruhi Suzumiya series is a possible example here. Despite the title, he's the main character. He's also the narrator, and it seems at times he confuses the two. Dialogue made by himself the Narrator will be responded to by other characters as if he the Character said it; while he the Narrator will point out details that he the Character is either ignoring or supposedly isn't aware of. It's to little wonder that this has made a few people paranoid about him.
  • Timothy Kensington from the vastly underrated book, "SCIENCE!" a.k.a. "True Science," may very well be the epitome of this trope. He skews every event to try to fit his point of view- which is that Stratton's theories about altering reality are pure craziness. Seriously, he remembers everyone wrong in order to convince everyone that his friend's theories about remembering everything wrong are insane. Yet, here he is, narrating this book, expecting you all to believe him unquestioningly.
  • Artemis Fowl was narrated by a faery psychologist at least a decade after the events occurred, the account rummaged together through the accounts of many involved. The end of the book itself states that at least 6% was 'unavoidable extrapolation', though it was likely a much higher percentage, seeing as many of the people involved in the storyline die in the following books. The narrator himself, Dr. Jerbal Argon, is a minor character in the book (as well as the later novels), though there is a good chance that he simply added himself in for the popularity that would ensue.
  • The Time Traveller in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells forms various hypotheses about the nature of the Eloi as the story progresses. Also, due to the novel's Framing Device, the narrator's spellings of the few samples of Eloi language that readers get are likely poor reflections of the actual phonology, as neither the Time Traveller nor the outer story's narrator is a linguist by profession.
  • Lampshaded twice in Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. (Harry Potter has the hero as third-person narrator, except in first chapter in some books): in Gringotts, the narration tells the path in full of stalactites and stalagmites, then Harry confesses he can't tell the difference between them. Later: "Perhaps it was Harry's imagination, after all he'd heard about Slytherin, but he thought they looked like an unpleasant lot."
    • And in the whole saga, were the Slytherin really mostly bad guys, or do they look like it because Harry is an Unreliable Narrator? The debate is far from over.
    • Throughout the series, Harry's narration describes Pansy Parkinson, the Alpha Bitch, as ugly. When Pansy is quoted in one of Rita Skeeter's articles, Rita calls her "pretty and vivacious". It's possible Rita was lying as she is prone to do, but it's also possible that Harry sees Pansy as ugly because he hates her. Or perhaps it's both and actually Pansy is just average-looking.
  • Theodor Storm's novella Der Schimmelreiter (the rider on a white horse) puts the main story into question by the expedient of a triple framing story: 1. Storm begins by saying he is writing down from memory a story that he read in a magazine when he was young (but his memory already is so bad that he isn't sure in which magazine). 2. The narrator in the magazine tells of how he came to an in on the North Sea coast where he heard of the ghostly Schimmelreiter, and when he enquires further, 3. the local schoolmaster tells him the story of Hauke Haien, a young man who invented a more modern type of dyke who died in a storm flood and who according to popular belief became a ghost haunting that stretch of the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein. The schoolmaster tells it rationalistically, as a psychological drama, with no supernatural elements, but he also says that his (superstitious) housekeeper would tell the story very differently.
  • The French Sci Fi novel Malevil is presented as the memoirs of Emmanuel Comte following World War III. He doesn't have perfect memory of all events and so his friend Thomas provides correcting notes after certain chapters. In one circumstance, Thomas corrects what would be a glaring Plot Hole to anybody in-universe reading the memoir: Emmanuel doesn't mention a single word about the solution to their Polyamory situation. However, Thomas isn't necessarily more reliable, as some of his notes are less correcting of mistakes and omissions and more arguing of opinions. At one point, Thomas decides he needs to debate Emmanuel's assessment of the only woman in their group and contradict his praise of her intelligence and beauty.
  • American Psycho. Patrick Bateman, the narrator, is clearly insane and has bizarre hallucinations (i.e. a Cheerio interviewed on a talk show, himself stalked by a park bench) which he believes to be true. It's also ambiguous whether he committed the brutal (and, occasionally, preposterous) murders that he describes in graphic detail.
  • Lunar Park. The narrator is a writer named after the author of the novel: Bret Easton Ellis who is an unreliable narrator, because he describes things the other characters don't see or feel. The main character is abusing drugs; some of the hallucinations might be to some extent related to that. Also, there is a intertextual reference: Ellis' character has apparently also written a novel titled American Psycho and he says: "Patrick Bateman is an unreliable narrator."
  • Joanne Harris' psychological thriller blueeyedboy is told through blog postings from the titular character (a self-proclaimed murderer) and his online acquaintance "Albertine," both of whom take sizable liberties with the truth and blur the line between fiction and reality constantly.
  • In Merlin: Darkling Child of Virgin and Devil, one chapter involves Merlin facilitating Arthur and Morgana's relationship. The next chapter has him explain that it never happened, he just induced a hallucination in Arthur (and himself, hence the Exact Words "If this is a dream, lord, it is one I share with you") ... and then immediately reveals that this is what he thought happened, but Morgana had other ideas. There are a few other moments when Merlin hides what's going on, thinks he knows what is going on but doesn't or—as above—both simultaneously. He has, after all, gone mad and is telling this story to a pig.
  • The same author's Falstaff uses this to play with Shakespeare's Anachronism Stew; the editor of Sir John Fastolfe's memoirs believes they cannot possibly be true because (for example) the drink "sack" was unknown in Fastolfe's time (and therefore, from the editor's perspective, doesn't exist). However, when he reaches the point of denying Fastolfe himself exists, despite being the man's stepson, it becomes open as to which of them is the less reliable.
  • Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking? (filmed as Notes on a Scandal): Barbara purports to be a cool, unbiased narrator of her friend Sheba's disastrous affair with a fifteen-year-old boy. In fact, she's a Psycho Lesbian Stalker with a Crush who's blatantly using the upheaval in Sheba's life to isolate and control her.
  • In C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, at the start of the second part Orual reveals that the first half of the book was not an accurate version of what happened, but she does not have the time to revise the whole book, so she merely continues forward, explaining how she learned she was wrong.
  • The protagonist of The Curious Case Of The Dog In The Nighttime is autistic, and while he has perfect recall and so relates everything word for word, facial expressions are naturally absent and therefore many things that may seem confusing or abrupt are simply the way they look from his eyes.
  • In the danger.com series, one book, Bad Intent, features mild-mannered Brian Rittenhouse, the POV character who's on his school's student council. About a third of the way through the book, it actually names this trope as the POV character reveals that he is, in fact, also an online alter ego named "Lobo" and explicitly instructs the reader to look up the concept of the unreliable narrator.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin leaves open the possibility that Eva, the title character's mother and narrator, may have been exaggerating her son's malignancy to absolve her of any responsibility. Several times she assumes he's responsible for an incident with no evidence to support this, and on at least one of these occasions she's actually proved wrong. The end of the story further adds to the unreliability, in that the entire Framing Device was a lie -- the book is written as a series of letters from Eva to her husband Franklin, who was actually one of the victims of Kevin's rampage but who most readers will assume is still alive because of the story's presentation.
  • Richard Powell's Pioneer Go Home! and Don Quixote, U.S.A. are both told by utterly naive narrators (from stupidity due to excessive inbreeding in the first case and a privileged-but-sheltered upbringing in the second) who credit nearly everybody they meet with the best of intentions and, largely due to this, misinterpret several key events.
  • Russell H. Greenan's The Secret Life of Algernon Pendleton is told by a man who got a brain concussion during WWII and earnestly believes that objects can have souls. Considering that his best friend is a china pitcher named Eulalia, large portions of his narrative can be regarded as doubtful at best.
  • Count and Countess. As an Epistolary Novel, it technically has two narrators, but it's usually a good rule of thumb that Vlad will be lying or exaggerating while Elizabeth tells the honest truth without much emotional embellishment.
  • Both in and out of universe in The Thirteenth Tale. Vida has a reputation for lying to people about her life story, so much so that Margaret refuses to work on this project without independently verifiable sources. Also, certain details of Vida's story raise questions for the reader.
  • In Sharon Creech's The Wanderer Sophie, a 13 years old girl, is sailing in a small boat across the Atlantic, with her two cousins (both also 13) and three uncles. The story is given to us as her and Cody's (one of the cousins) diaries. At first Sophie's diary seems consistent and convincing. However, when comparing it with Cody's diary, we quickly notice that Sophie blacks out any notions that she is actually adopted. Even when somebody in her vicinity uses the word "orphan", she changes it to something else, or else outright skips it in the diary. Also she slightly changes all Bompie's stories so that he has to struggle in the water, like she did once.
  • Word of God says that in the Warrior Cats novel The Last Hope, Dovewing hallucinated Firestar walking away from Tigerstar, and that he actually died from wounds received fight with him. Then again, Word of God from another of the authors states that Firestar died from the smoke of a nearby tree that was struck by lightning, so this may actually be a case of unreliable God.
  • In Christopher Brookmyre's A Snowball in Hell, any section narrated by Simon Darcourt is unreliable due to the fact that he spends the majority of his time lying to or misleading the audience, especially about his motives and, importantly, his cancer, or lack thereof
  • Also by Brookmyre, Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks features the unreliable duo of Jack Parlabane and Michael Loftus, both of whom conceal the fact that they are not in fact dead. A third-person narrator also gets in on the act by misleading the reader as to the true identity of the person who sabotaged Michael's flat.
  • Mandeville just comes out and says he is one in A Dirge for Prester John.