Tuesday, March 5, 2013

unreliable narrators

Don't worry, my brain is still stuck on Gone Girl even though it's been 3 days since I finished it. That's how you know it was a good book. Even The Bachelor: Women Tell All wasn't much distraction for my brain's constant trying to figure out what it is about the book that has me so caught up in it. Although I did take a few minutes to marvel at Tierra's special brand of crazy and try to compare and contrast it with Amy (book character)'s. Anyone else out there doing that? No? Shall I make a Venn diagram for you? Okay, kidding. Kinda.

So I was doing some 'research' about Gone Girl- if you can consider Wikipedia to be legit research. I can, since I'm not in college and not presenting this 'research' to anyone. It's a great source of info, especially since I don't especially care if the info is true or not. And really I was trying to find out if they're making a movie and if so, who is involved. (What I've found: Yes, they are. Reese Witherspoon's production company bought the rights to the screenplay and Gillian Flynn is writing the screenplay. Reese is only going to be producing it, not acting (thank God). The guy who directed Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is going to be directing.) Anyway, after reading the Wiki and then several other review-type things talking about the book and it's success/criticisms, a lot of what it comes down to is the book's use of unreliable narrators. That seems to be what people's love or hate balances on: either you like (or can handle) unreliable narration, or you can't. 

And it's been awhile since I've taken any English or literature classes, so I'd forgotten (or never learned) the term 'unreliable narrator', but as soon as I saw it (and in the context of a book I'd just finished reading), I was like THAT'S IT. That is why I loved it. Unreliable narration? Love it. And who knew it was a whole 'thing' in literature? Apparently so. Not in 'genre books,' but in 'literature,' which is apparently why Gone Girl is some kind of crossover book, having many features of both genre books and Real Books. People who like genre books (read: books written for mass appeal that more or less follow their genre's Formula, aka everything I normally read) tend to NOT appreciate an unreliable narrator because hello-- it all falls apart. If you can't trust that what your narrator is telling you is actually true, then where does that leave you? As a reader, you have only the narrator to lead you through the book's plot. You can't observe things on your own. You can't really draw your own conclusions. So to read a story and then a third of the way through realize that your narrator(s) are lying? That what they saw may not actually have been there? That they've been lying not only to the police and their friends, but to YOU? I mean, talk about betrayal. Apparently lots of people can't handle that. They slam the book shut and swear it off because how dare the narrator mislead me.

But I love it. And so I've been reflecting, these past two days, trying to figure out why. Why do I love an unreliable narrator? Why would that appeal to me? I'm a rule-follower. I love formulas (and Excel spreadsheets). I thrive on order and things going The Way They're Supposed To. So why on Earth would my heart get so excited about someone (albeit a fictional character) lying their way through a story, causing me to question what is actually happening the whole time?

I think it's because in real life...well, Real Life is lived through unreliable narrators. All of us, we're unreliable narrators. I see life through my eyes. I don't have the benefit of somehow objectively knowing everything else that's going on, absorbing and processing all of the information, and presenting it in a linear and true fashion. That really only happens in books. I see only what I see, and it's greatly influenced by my thoughts and emotions, and if I'm telling a story, it's absolutely biased by my own perception, my own life experience, and quite honestly- maybe it's unreliable. Maybe not intentionally. But someone else could tell the same story from their own point of view and maybe it's a totally different story.

Like everyone's most hated Bachelor girl, Tierra. I mean, homegirl is the DEFINITION of an unreliable narrator, right? What she thought was happening? WAS NOT HAPPENING. And we all have the benefit of a team of camera crews and hours of video footage to affirm that fact. Homegirl had this whole drama worked up in her head and perceived other people's words and actions in a way that was essentially wrong. And when she tells her story, well...it's wrong. And we can call her out on it since the whole thing was being filmed. 

But most of the time we don't have some objective bird's-eye view of a situation, like we do on reality TV (I know, I know-- not really objective and probably extremely biased based on whatever the producers feel like showing us. I KNOW). And so we go through life narrating our own stories and everyone else's based on what we see and we feel and we think and just...taking it all in as though our narration is the absolute truth. 

And really, there's no point to this rambling. Sorry if you thought I was leading up to some bold thesis or intelligent bring-it-all-together. Please. I'm a blogger, not a professor. All I've come up with is that I like the unreliable narrator because it reminds me of life. Of seeing situations through someone's eyes and agreeing with them and following along and then suddenly realizing that maybe they're a tiny bit wrong. Maybe what they're saying isn't the whole truth. Maybe you need to go back and question what they saw in Chapter 1 because maybe that isn't the whole story about what actually happened. And maybe that's annoying, and it'd be easier if everything was just always clear and every person's words could be taken at face value all the time. But maybe it's what makes life interesting. And books phenomenal. 


  1. Here's a question: if Tierra were to write a book, would you read it?!

  2. Love that Tierra = Homegirl. And although I didn't read Gone Girl, Women Tell All last night just didn't really do it for me either. Most of the girls said NOTHING. What the heck?!

  3. Ok I'm definitely going to have to buy this book now...

  4. Can we just be best friends now because what you wrote here was JUST PERFECT.

    A) I admit when I was reading.....I questioned Nick's honestly and reliability at first.....because I thought he was sooooo done for. Yeah. So there was that huge trick.

    B) Women Tell All was pretty boring, I agree. Tierra is such a liar. Who was lying when it came to that whole Sean vs Ashlee deal? I always liked Ashlee, and I could sort of see Sean saying something like that to her on their fantasy-suite-stay-up-all-night-and-talk ordeal with no cameras around....

  5. I will have to check out this book! Pretty impressive that you can link literature with the bachelor! But I totally get your comparison!

  6. Can I just say that I love your writing just as much as I love Gillian Flynn's? And that's A LOT of love!

    This post couldn't have been more perfect. From your reflection of an unreliable narrator to your reflection of Tierra. And I couldn't agree more.

    Is it possible to love an unreliable narrator in film? I find myself drawn to movies that don't have the anticipated "formula". The movies that most people leave saying, "what the heck!" and I leave in deep in thought and wanting more.

    I do think there is something to be said about a person that appreciates an unreliable narrator, and hopefully not just because I am included in this group. I think it shows that a person can think of another's perspective and appreciate it, even though it can differ so greatly from their own.

    One more thing... Tierra's fiance should definitely consider reading Gone Girl. He needs to be introduced to Amy. He will thank us later.

  7. omg. i LOOOOOVVVVEEEE unreliable narrators.should i say that louder? i love books that make me think i know what's going on, and then bam! chapter 17 reveals i know nothing. and maybe i need to read gone girl now. thanks a lot.

  8. I just wanted to let you know that even though I (a) haven't read a book in a very long time, sadly, and (b) don't watch The Bachelor, I still read this whole post because I love you that much :)

  9. Hmmmm.... Maybe this would fascinate me too. Did you ever read The Three Little Pigs from the wolf's perspective?

    Or Goldilocks from the Three Bear's?

    Blew my mind as a child...

  10. Love this. That's all.

    (Now I'm going back to reading Gone Girl.)


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