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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Unreliable Narrators

By A.J. Llewellyn

I am a voracious reader and writer and when I find a new author I love, I consume all their books with an obsession that keeps me awake nights until I've read each and every last tale. Right now, my love affair is with Agatha Christie. I remember reading a couple of her 'cosy mysteries' as a teen but never went beyond that. At the library where I volunteer, we all know each others' tastes and we keep an eye out for the books our co-workers might like. About a month ago, one of my dear old ladies gave me a copy of And Then There were None, by the great dame herself.
"Agatha Christie?" I queried my co-worker.
"It's set on an island and it's one of her best," she said. "I know you're an island guy."
I dutifully read it, touched that my co-worker thought to grab this book for me out of weekly donations given to us for our monthly book sale.
I devoured the book, the denouement of which came as a big shock to me. I honestly did not guess that ending. I googled And Then There were None and was not surprised to learn it is indeed considered one of Christie's best works.
It even survived the controversy attached to its first printing, entitled Ten Little Niggers, based on a British nursery rhyme.
There is debate over whether Christie had any clue she was doing anything offensive, but she quickly agreed to change the title for U.S. release to Ten Little Indians. It was re-released as And Then There were None but there are film versions of both of these titles.
I finally nabbed almost all of Christie's works from our last book sale for about $6 which thrilled me. Everybody who was there said I should read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which is considered to be her best book.
I started it that afternoon and could not stop reading it, even as I walked the dog.
What a story!
I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment of it should they wish to read the book themselves, so I will say only this: I have never read such a clever piece of crime fiction.
It is the first time I've read a mystery from the POV of an Unreliable Narrator.
I am now hooked.
Once again I turned to Google and found that Christie's use of an Unreliable Narrator was at the time (1920s) unique and was both lauded and criticized.
Still, it sold her millions of books (we should all be so lucky) and she used this plot device again for the book Endless Night, which is an incredible examination of an evil mind.
Endless Night is especially shocking to me because it is a love story as well as a murder mystery.
Christie understood human beings in a profound way.
I've become obsessed with Unreliable Narrators and am contemplating creating one of my own.
She created the syndrome, I'd like to pay homage to it.
But what about you? Do you like the idea or is it cheating the reader?
I'd really like to know your thoughts...

Aloha oe,

A.J.

5 comments:

C.R. Moss said...

I'm like that too, finding a new author and reading all their stuff.
I haven't read any of her books yet but the concept of an Unreliable Narrator sounds interesting.
=)

Anonymous said...

I have read all of Agatha Christie'sw books and especially like the Hercule Poirot ones she wrote.
If I like an author, I will read all of their books.
JOYE
JWIsley(at)aol (dot) come

Lynn Crain said...

I've never been an Agatha Christie fan but now you've got me intrigued.

Thanks for the information, AJ, it will make me look at her books quite differently.

Lynn

AJ Llewellyn said...

Thanks everyone, believe it or not, I've had a lot of private emails asking me about what an Unreliable Narrator is...I was trying not to give anything away but it is essentially a narrator telling you information they want you to know but isn't necessarily the whole truth...in other words, they have something to hide.

Erin Sinclair said...

Love Agatha Christie with a passion. I love mystery/suspense and want to write it. Hercule Poirot is my favorite character however, I know towards the end Ms. Christie was sick of the "egoist" as she liked to call him.

What a fun challenge as an author to write the Unreliable Narrator, go for it AJ :).

Erin

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