There's Something About an Unreliable Narrator

April 10, 2018

Some of my favorite novels are told from the point of view of the unreliable narrator: Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, Atonement, by Ian McEwan, Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood, and Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, to name a few. An extensive list of novels with unreliable narrators can be found on GoodReads. Check it out. You might find many of your favorites there also. My character, Josephine, in Josephine's Journals is as unreliable as they come. She appears again as DeCe in Tangled a Southern Gothic Yarn.

 

I recently read a novel recommended to me by my friend, Ginger. She was captivated by the story and thought any writer might like it also. I took her advice. It was an engrossing story for many reasons. The setting was bleak and the characters were few, but there was something about hanging out with Helena Ross that drew me in. The novel is The Ghostwriter by Alessandra Torre. Torre is a New York Times best selling author. She writes in several genres and I will certainly try others, but she has a knack for suspense.

 

We learn immediately from Helena Ross, the protagonist, that she is a successful romance author, young, but recently diagnosed with cancer with only a few months to live. We also know she has been married and had a child. What we won't know for a while, is where the other members of her family are. She lives a fairly miserable life in an expensive, yet empty house, snapping at anyone who rings her doorbell. However, there is something she wants to write for publication before her demise. In order to accomplish this, she decides she will need a ghostwriter. Her choice is unconventional and as it turns out, as shocking for her as it is for the writer. This will be the first of several twists.

 

So, the setting is bleak and the characters are few; the story is the climb. It's unwrapped a piece at a time, handing the reader the bits of information about Helena they want to know, even when they don't like her much. It's a struggle to identify with her. She tells her bits in the first person, thus the unreliable narrator. The other characters are revealed in third person, drawing us even closer to Helena. She is both hero and culprit, and we really feel the duplicity when the ghostwriter arrives, a person immediately likable. But we soon learn all the characters are vulnerable, flawed, and real, even Helena's mother, someone she has no affection for.

 

It's a puzzle of a story and not easy to categorize into genre. It's emotional and draws the reader in slowly until they are gut punched and falling right along with Helena. Her resolution is brilliant and ties the whole dilemma up beautifully. It's a plan gone terribly wrong and then propped up again, not the same, but in a fashion we can live with. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who wants to be taken on a journey. Allesandra Torre will take you there.

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