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Have you ever read a story from the villain’s point of view? Ever tried to write one? What about a narrator that doesn’t tell the reader all of the truth? The narrator may not lie, not really, but they may not tell the reader everything that they know…
An unreliable narrator is just as it sounds — a narrator that the reader cannot rely on to tell all that they know. Narrators, either in first or third person, typically are the reader’s eyes into the world of the story. We see what the narrator sees, hear what they hear, remember what they remember. The narrator’s emotions are, generally, what the reader is supposed to feel while following the narrator through the story. This empathy is what keeps a reader invested in the book.
It’s difficult for a reader to empathize with the narrator if the narrator is unreliable.
Figuring out near the end of the book that the narrator suddenly knows something the reader did not or drops the act that the narrator had been performing throughout the novel can be a risky move. On one hand, having an unreliable narrator can keep the reader in suspense — to suddenly have the narrator reveal a grander plan than the reader originally knew can keep the thrill of the story going…
Or it can jolt the reader out of the story, citing that the narrator has gone out of character. It can also annoy the reader to have this narrator that we’ve been emotionally invested in suddenly change. Any empathy the reader had gets thrown out the window.
Then, of course, there are unreliable narrators that are played straight — a character that may have split personality disorder, that may have a troublesome memory, that may be known as a chronic liar. The readers ideally keep reading to see what is going to happen to the narrator, to figure out for themselves what is the truth or not.
Have you read any stories with unreliable narrators? Any really well-written ones, or did the narrator’s unreliability turn you off from the story?
“We are not broken things, neither of us. We are cracked pottery mended with laquer and flakes of gold, whole as we are, complete unto each other. Complete and worthy and so very loved.” — Mackenzi Lee, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
“The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” Review
This post may contain spoilers.
This book was one of my favorite spur-of-the-moment-buys-due-to-a-Tumblr-post that I’ve had in a while. The Tumblr post in question listed various reasons as to why one should buy this book, including race diversity, sexual diversity, pirates, and a journey around Europe for precious treasure. Mackenzi Lee certainly delivered with this fresh and lively story.
The story stars a young lord by the name of Henry Montague, who prefers to be called Monty because Henry reminds him too much of his father. Monty is a bit of a rascal, falling into beds of men and women alike while squandering away his inheritance as his way of rebelling against his parents. While he’s not anxious to become the next lord of the estate and learn under his father, Monty believes that it’s the only course for his future.
His solution is to gallivant on one last Tour of Europe with his best friend Percy, whom he is utterly in love with. It is Monty’s wish to have one last year having as much fun as possible flirting with Percy, gambling, drinking, and trouble alike. Yet, when Monty’s penchant for mischief causes more trouble than he would like, the Tour turns into a manhunt across Europe with Monty, Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity as the targets.
This book was a brilliant page-turner. The action of the adventure that Lee conjures for the reader never stop — even if the starring trio seem to get a chance to catch their breath while on the run, something troublesome is always lurking around the corner. The dynamic between the three main characters is absolutely wonderful, with them representing strong ties in platonic, romantic, and sibling relationships, and each of them are strong enough to develop and grow amidst exterior and interior troubles. Side and minor characters are even fully developed, each getting his or her own voice that are easily recognizable.
As if the characters and the adventure aren’t enough to keep you reading, the sheer wit and, at times, delicious sarcasm of Monty as the narrator will keep you invested. Monty has no filter, not as a narrator nor as part of conversations with the other characters, and it is wonderfully refreshing with plenty of comedic quips. Aside from adoring Monty and Percy together (even if there were times when I wanted to shake the two by the shoulders as I want to do with most pining teenage and young adult characters), the sibling relationship between Monty and Felicity was a delight. Reading their interactions and how they grow together in the story was amazing.
If you’re interested in a period story about high-stakes adventure, witty description and dialogue, sibling banter, pining love, diversity in race and sexuality, and pirates that haven’t quite figured out how to be good pirates yet, then I highly recommend Lee’s “A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.”
“The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” gets a 5 out of 5 stars.