I’ve owned an unreliable washing machine, an unreliable car, and worst of all roller-coaster results from a not entirely trustworthy recipe for spaghetti carbonara. And yet I persist. It’s the same with an unreliable narrator. Make the people who live on your pages too predictably perfect, and nobody cares.
I just picked up my first advance review for ‘Rebuilding Alexandra Small‘. One thing the reader zoomed in on is the fact that Alexandra Fox is far from perfect.
“At times I felt sorry for Allie and at other times I blamed her. Allie is not perfect, hasn’t always made great decisions, and sometimes lashes out. She’s like one version of ourselves, the version we are always trying to hide. Yet even then, I envy her. Allie doesn’t suppress herself. She reacts. She says what she shouldn’t and acts on impulse… but not all the time. She is trying to pick up her pieces and move on with her life, except she’s been thrust into a state of limbo. Mo Fanning has cleverly crafted this complex environment for Allie and I was enthralled watching the ups and downs of her everyday life within this environment. I was forever guessing what she would do or say next. I couldn’t put the book down.”
Who invented the unreliable narrator?
An unreliable storyteller is a narrator whose credibility is compromised. Wayne C. Booth first coined the phrase in 1961 in The Rhetoric of Fiction. Sometimes unreliability is made immediately clear. Also, it’s better if a reader finds out about selective memory once they get to know them – just like in real life. Who hasn’t made a friend with hidden depths?
When writing Allie, I wanted to create someone readers engage with on a deeper level. First person narratives put the reader in the storyteller’s mind, and transmit their exclusive take on the world … but everyone has their less shining moments, and having Allie confront her past is my way of framing an up-down-up recovery. I didn’t want her unreliability to jump out of the first page, rather it should reveal itself in unexpected ways.
Quoting the rather lovely Rachel Barnard once more:
“Allie wasn’t always nice to others growing up, so perhaps the way people see her and treat her now might be some kind of karma, but she doesn’t deserve it.”
Rebuilding Alexandra Small is available this month to request on NetGalley.
It’s also on sale for advance orders as both an eBook and Paperback at all good booksellers.