The best novels with devilishly unreliable narrators

Benjamin Buchholz Author Of One Hundred and One Nights
By Benjamin Buchholz

Who am I?

Benjamin Buchholz is a U.S. military diplomat who has served around the world in some of the toughest places: Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Oman. His interest in the unreliable narrator comes from two sources, like LeCarre, his love for a good spy novel where the characters, protagonist and antagonist alike, often have reasons inside of reasons to obscure their true intentions; and, the deeper psychological portrait of humans who are forced to the brink in order to survive – what does madness do, not just in terms of fracturing an identity, but also, perhaps, in allowing us to persevere through the worst of the worst. Ben's own writing explores these areas, as does the list he recommends here.

I wrote...

One Hundred and One Nights

By Benjamin Buchholz,

Book cover of One Hundred and One Nights

What is my book about?

After 13 years in America, Abu Saheeh has returned to his native Iraq, a nation transformed by American military presence. Alone in a new city, he has exactly what he wants: freedom from his past. Then he meets Layla, a whimsical fourteen-year-old girl who enchants him with her love of American pop culture. Enchanted by Layla's stories and her company, Abu Saheeh settles into the city's rhythm and begins rebuilding his life. But two sudden developments – his alliance with a powerful merchant and his employment of a hot-headed young assistant – reawaken painful memories.

A breathtaking tale of friendship, love, and betrayal, One Hundred and One Nights is an unforgettable novel about the struggle for salvation and the power of family.

The books I picked & why

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Fight Club

By Chuck Palahniuk,

Book cover of Fight Club

Why this book?

Let me tell you, this is the mother of all unreliable narrators. We probably all know the moment when it happens, when we realize that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, errr, Tyler Durden, can no longer be considered reliable in their telling of the tale. But how much better to read the words Palahniuk wrote, find in them the genesis of the movie, than to just get them fed to you while you're tied to an office chair with a gun in your mouth? Read it. You'll feel dirty and smart all at once.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Mark Haddon,

Book cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Why this book?

If you're okay calling a book that begins with a slain poodle a more gentle read, then this is more gentle. Still, it remains well within the realm of the unpredictable. I love how it works from within to immerse us, as readers, in autism, allowing us to see/feel/hear/be with it awhile. And I love how it shows us magic intrigues happening even in a smaller life.


By Henri Charriere,

Book cover of Papillon

Why this book?

This one is fun because, first of all, it's a harrowing story of prison life and escape adventures in the French Caribbean. Not hooked yet? Well, the unreliableness of it isn't necessarily in the book, but in the question of whether the book – as Charriere always maintained – was truthfully autobiographical, or whether he just wove one hell of a tale. Did he really hide his money there? One could throw in Shantaram as another, similar, title to read in this exact genre too.

The Night Manager

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of The Night Manager

Why this book?

Well, in my opinion, pick any LeCarre spy novel and you're already winning at life. The slowness with which they sometimes seem to move becomes like a morphine dripline direct into your veins, and by the time you realize exactly what sort of gray-on-gray world the characters inhabit, and what qualities at first ambiguous but later crucial allow them to act with ambiguous heroism, you'll get a true flavor of MI6.

A Clockwork Orange

By Anthony Burgess,

Book cover of A Clockwork Orange

Why this book?

He makes up his own language. He lives his violent fantasies. Its final chapter wasn't originally published in America, due to America's ambivalent understanding of its own morals and tolerances. Striving, beauty, confusion, the teen experience, and all of it dystopian and seen through the looking glass of the narrator's flaws. This, friends, is horrible and beautiful all at once.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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