I love a good twist. One that’s so unexpected, it makes me want to reread the entire story immediately just to pick up on all the hints that were dropped throughout. And, IMHO, nothing does this quite so well as the unreliable narrator.
Ah, the unreliable narrator. Those wily characters who lead us down false paths, keep parts of themselves hidden, unabashedly lie to us, and yet never fail to entertain.
In honor of this month’s theme, here are my top 10 favorite twists, all thanks to unreliable narrators:
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
- Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- In the Woods by Tana French
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
- Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
***SPOILERS BELOW!!! SCROLL AT YOUR OWN RISK***
- The Murder of Roger Akroyd by Agatha Christie – I’ll never forget the moment when I was reading this book and I realized whodunit. My mind was completely blown! I went through the entire book believing the narrator was a good guy—after all, Hercule Poirot seemed to trust him—and then, bam!, you realize Dr. Sheppard is the killer!
- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – On page one, the narrator states that she likes a “twist of meaning,” but even still Cadence was so compelling that I wanted to trust her. Taking place on a private island with a group of four besties who refer to themselves as the Liars, there’s a secret that Cadence must uncover, and it’s not until the end that the truth is unveiled: all the Liars except for Cadence are actually dead, having passed away in a tragic accident the summer before.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I bet everyone in the world was shocked when they reached the halfway point of this novel (or the film adaptation), only to discover all of Amy’s diary entries were a lie, a careful construct meant to fool the police and framing her husband for her supposed murder! The rest of the story is a rollercoaster; all leading up to the rather twisted ending where you learn Amy and Nick are going to have a baby.
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel – The entire story is completely unbelievable, but there’s so much detail and the narrator seems so trustworthy that I completely bought it. Surviving alone at sea for 227 days with a tiger aboard your ship? Sure! An island made of teeth? Absurd, but okay! But then at the very end, the narrator confesses that the hyena was the cook, the orangutan was his mother, the zebra was the sailor, and the tiger was Pi! Although he never did explain that carnivorous island…
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – That ending! I’m not a big crier, but this one made me teary. It’s really a story of female friendship between Maddie and Julie, a pilot and spy during WW2, respectively. There are dual POVs, one of which is Julie’s confession to her Nazi captors. Throughout most of the book, I thought Julie had given up and handed over her secret codes, but it turns out she was incredibly brave and made up every single one! And at the end, the gut-wrenching part: Maddie is forced to shoot Julie. Ugh!
- Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – This narrator is tricky. At first you think Rachel’s just a normal commuter heading into London for her job, but then you learn she’s unemployed, an alcoholic who has frequent blackouts, and has a weird obsession with the couple she observes from the train, of whom the wife goes missing. I spent most of the book thinking Rachel was the murderer, but then she starts remembering things from her blackout, namely her ex-husband with his beyond-awful temper. And the twist ending: Rachel kills her ex-husband with a corkscrew, and his new wife helps!
- In the Woods by Tana French – The noir tone fits this narrator to a T. When Rob Ryan is called to investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl near his childhood home, old memories are stirred of an unsolved murder from decades before, one that he was at the heart of, but mysteriously can’t remember. He risks his job, relationship with his partner (who’s a complete badass), and even his sanity to try to solve this murder. The worst part, the killer ends up walking away scot-free at the end. And the 1984 mystery is unresolved, in the best way possible.
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – I highly recommend this book for writers… It’s a wonderful suspense about a famous reclusive author named Vida Winter who finally decides to share her extraordinary life story, and what a story it is! For most of the book, I thought the main character was one of the twins and kept trying to figure out if she was the good or evil one, but at the very end it’s divulged that she’s actually a third sister, the so-called “girl in the mist”! And after one of the twins (you never really find out which one) dies in a fire, Vida takes her identity.
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – The narrator starts her story in the middle. You know there’s some secret tragedy in her family’s history, but you don’t know what it could be. Then the twist comes, refreshingly early on, that Rosemary’s sister was actually a chimpanzee, and her family was part of a scientific study to raise a chimp alongside a human child! The rest of the story is told out of chronological order as Rosemary begins to understand that she was partly responsible for her twin’s disappearance.
- Where’d You Go Bernadette – This was such a fun novel, told through emails, newspaper articles, and other documents. Bernadette’s character is so quirky and borderline unstable, you never quite know what to make of her, which makes her disappearance all the more intriguing. Throw in her husband’s illicit affair, her blackberry shrub mudslide, and her escape to Antarctica (of all places) and this was a wonderfully surprising read!
What are some of your favorite plot twists? Are you a fan of unreliable narrators?