Ah, the unreliable narrator. I hear the groans from students across the interweb and those of us who remember senior English. ‘Miss, what do you mean, “Can we trust the narrator?” ?’ Aren’t they the ones freakin’ telling the story? Why would they lie? And isn’t it all fiction anyway? Why make something up and then imply that the made-up version is, er, invented?
As mentioned in the last post (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay): I love a blanket statement. I’ll whip them out and throw them over the chest of a conversation like one of those weird snuggy things… One of my favourites is: I don’t like reading books where I don’t like the characters. Now go read my blog on Wuthering Heights. Another is: I don’t do books where an animal tells the story (a la Black Beauty). Now, true, I am wary of the animal storyteller, but that’s not to say I’ve never read a book with a creature character telling it like it is and enjoyed it, not at all. (Was Six Lives of Fankle the Cat told by the cat? I can’t recall…! ) And finally, blanket statement no. 3: I’m not a fan of the unreliable narrator. Well, that’s tosh too.
Liar by Justine Larbalestier is compelling. As a reader you just have to go with the narrator on her twisting, always surprising, never quite believable (but maybe it is the truth) journey. No matter how fast your mind works, Micah is always one step ahead of you, or maybe it’s two, or maybe she is just encircling you in a web of half-truths to get you on side, to make you believe. But do you? Should you? How is one’s reading of the book affected?
The toughest thing about the unreliable narrator, apart from trying to find out the ‘truth’, is that it can be such hard bloody work. Wait a minute, what is she saying now…? But didn’t she say before… ? She’s saying she’s a what now? She said who did what to whosit? But I thought…
Props go to the author who can create the stories and then pull all the strings, letting little pieces go at different times, retracting certain things, not going back to other mentions, earning the reader’s trust, only to muddle them later on. It’s quite a feat. Especially when you can keep your reader with you the whole way.
So did I believe Micah? I’m still not sure. Justine tells an amazing tale – blending reality and fantasy in such a way that this story of story-telling keeps you coming back to turn more pages. I haven’t read anything like this in a long time. I haven’t had a book tangle me up so and still enjoyed it.
This is one of those books where once finished, you need to talk to someone about it straightaway. It’s a book where you can’t really explain it to anyone else for fear of revealing the wrong thing. But you can recommend it to them. Even if not exactly your thang, Liar will get you thinking, it will remind you of the kinds of things we can do with stories, their power and potential. And I recommend it to you.