This is the main trope of the Baron Munchausen stories, both in the original 18th century novel or in any of the various later pastiches. The stories were based on the actual Baron Munchausen, who became popular in 18th century Germany for regaling his friends and guests with humorous tall tales of his exploits.
This is a true story. I was there. When I wasn't, and when I didn't know exactly what was going on — inside Gurgeh's mind, for example — I admit that I have not hesitated to make it up. But it's still a true story. Would I lie to you?
In A Snowball in Hell, any section narrated by Simon Darcourt is unreliable due to the fact that he spends the majority of his time lying to or misleading the audience, especially about his motives and, importantly, his cancer, or lack thereof.
Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks features the unreliable duo of Jack Parlabane and Michael Loftus, both of whom conceal the fact that they are not in fact dead. A third-person narrator also gets in on the act by misleading the reader as to the true identity of the person who sabotaged Michael's flat.
Really, most Brookmyre mysteries involve intricately constructed networks of misdirection, careful omission and outright lies by at least one narrator to maintain his preferred illusion until such time as he decides to deliver the twist.
And Then There Were None: at one point, the actual murderer, Judge Wargrave, is described as being surprised when the person who wrote the letter inviting them to Indian Island isn't at the island to greet them — and the narrator's little peek into the character's thoughts reveals (or seems to reveal) that the character's surprise is genuine. (Since this books uses a third-person omniscient narration, this might be a case of Lying Creator, but no one knows if it was deliberate or accidental on Christie's part.)
Endless Night - Michael talks about meeting the love of his life, a rich heiress, marrying her, fighting with her best friend, building their dream house, only for her to die mysteriously... and then you find out that all of that was a lie, because he's the murderer and his true love is the best friend, who he's known since before the story.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Something of an aversion, since the narrator never actually lies — but deceive, oh yes. Sheppard stabbed Ackroyd and left behind a gramophone recording of Ackroyd speaking to give himself an alibi, which he later hid in his doctor's bag after he "discovered" the body. Since he never mentions what he did in the ten minutes between shutting the door and walking home, and during the short time he was alone with the body, the remainder of the account is entirely truthful.
Time Enough for Love is a (sort of) autobiography of immortal(?) Lazarus Long. Long himself states in the book that some of the details may or may not be true. A later book, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, has the lead character state outright that Lazarus had lied all through the book.
At one point in TEFL, Long offers to tell the true story of what happened to the Jockaira from Methuselah's Children; another character declines to hear it, asserting that the story is already in the Howard Families archives "in four conflicting versions."
Heinlein could be said to be the unreliable narrator of his own life: for decades fans accepted, without question, his assertion that "Life-Line" was the first work of fiction he'd written (it wasn't) and that he'd written it for a contest (he hadn't).
Franz Kafka. Due to his famous style, he's able to directly contradict himself within the same sentence, AND make it so subtle that a casual or superficial reader will scarcely notice. The Metamorphosis and The Judgment stand out in this respect.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The story is told by Chief Bromden, who is schizophrenic. While the story is supposed to be true, he adds in plenty of insane, paranoid delusions. On the other hand, any student of American History with an understanding of the issues involved in the history of the Plains Indian tribes can see just how accurate the alleged delusions of Chief Bromden are.
But it's the truth even if it didn't happen.
He played with this idea further in his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, which is narrated at various points by at least a half-dozen different people. Each different person sheds new light on (or changes the facts in) previously shared events in a way which reflects their own views and interests, shifting the reader's sympathies in various conflicts several times.
H. P. Lovecraft's stories are usually narrated from a first-person point of view by said stories' main characters. The unreliability of the narrators may range from becoming increasingly maddened as the narration progresses to seemingly sane persons questioning their own sanity and the quality of their recollections as they recall a horrific experience they lived through. Lovecraft also had a penchant for having some of his stories' narrators narrating from mental asylums. In The Temple, the narrator is a German submarine commander in World War I, who steadfastly refuses to believe in anything supernatural, and instead he's sure that he went insane and became an unreliable narrator. Lovecraft loved (no pun intended) to play the Refuge In Insanity card when his characters faced an Eldritch Abomination or related supernatural phenomenon. One could say that a lot of his stories can be a form of this Aesop: "If you ever see the Truth, run. For it has many tentacles."
Edgar Allan Poe practically invented this trope, at least in western literature:
In The Cask of Amontillado, the narrator claims that he is getting revenge on his nemesis Fortunato for a monstrous insult. However, Fortunato seems to trust the narrator and thinks that they're friends. The narrator never specifies exactly what Fortunato did to him, leaving the question of Fortunato's exact fault (or even the existence thereof) open.
The Tell-Tale Heart, which has the narrator, who insists at the very beginning that he is not mad, murdering a man and putting him under the floorboards but giving himself away because he imagines his victim's heart is still beating. This story is often used to introduce students to the concept of unreliable narrators in general.
Ligeia, in which the narrator admits that he is under the influence of "an immoderate dose of opium," leaving the reader to wonder if the events of the story are really happening or if they're simply being hallucinated by the narrator.
The eponymous narrator of William Wilson has been oft suggested by literary critics to be insane, or at least suffering from multiple personality disorder and severe schizophrenia.
Richard Powell's Pioneer Go Home! and Don Quixote, U.S.A. are both told by utterly naïve narrators (from stupidity due to excessive inbreeding in the first case and a privileged-but-sheltered upbringing in the second) who credit nearly everybody they meet with the best of intentions and, largely due to this, misinterpret several key events.
Charles Stross' The Laundry Files: Told from the perspective of the protagonist, Bob Howard, this series illustrates this trope in several ways: For one thing, his name isn't "Bob Howard", for I Know Your True Name reasons. Also, the characters sound slightly different when he's narrating in first person compared to the independent/"reconstruction"/speculation third-person bits. Details of Bob's past, like what exact disaster he almost caused unwittingly before The Laundry found him, or the length of time he's worked for them also may vary. Lampshaded repeatedly during parts of the books Bob was not around for, despite apparently having dialogue-perfect accounts.
Played with, in that since the books are (mostly) couched as Bob's organizational Memoirs he often annotates events as being the start of something nasty and/or labels things that happen or go wrong as being his fault. The fact that things would probably have been infinitely worse if not for Bob's actions is generally glossed over at best or ignored at worst.
The works of Jim Thompson use this frequently. A Hell of a Woman is a prime example, wherein the main character's personality splits halfway through the tale and begins telling the story in parallel paths, one an idealistic version of what happened and the other, presumably, real story.
The Hobbit has a somewhat odd example of this. In the first edition, Gollum bets his Ring in the riddle game with Bilbo. After J. R. R. Tolkien decided to set it in Middle-earth and write The Lord of the Rings as a sequel, this didn't fit with the concept of the Ring. So for the second edition of The Hobbit, he Retconned it so the riddle game part of the story was changed to the "true" version of events. His explanation for the first edition? Bilbo was lying to legitimize his ownership of the Ring! He even obliquely apologizes for that in The Fellowship of the Ring, at the Council of Elrond.
When he recalls what Gandalf had said about Bilbo's mercy to Gollum: Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends. What Gandalf had actually said was "Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
When he reminds Gollum of the true nature of the One Ring: One Ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them. There was no such line in any verse; the closest thing would be the inscription on the Ring, which read "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them."
P. G. Wodehouse once collected story ideas and kept getting ones that were simply too absurd to be used. Then he had the brilliant idea of putting them all in the mouth of Mr. Mulliner, a fisherman spinning yarns at his local pub, who wouldn't be believed anyway.
Gene Wolfe is the undisputed master of this trope. If one of his novels is narrated in the first person it is guaranteed to contain incomplete, inaccurate or just missing information that the reader will have to figure out in order to make sense of the story.
In Book of the Short Sun, there's one point where the narrator throws himself on the mercy of the reader for having lied to them, then proceeds to retell a completely different version of the events of the previous chapter. Just in case you hadn't figured out yet what was going on.
His Soldier of the Mist gives us Latro, a Roman mercenary who receives a head injury that completely destroys his short term memory beyond a 10-12 hour window. So the book consists of his adventures where he is constantly re-introducing himself to certain characters, some of whom try to take advantage of his disability. On the flip side, Latro can see and interact with the spirit world, so he often runs into gods and mythical creatures.
The polar opposite is Severian, from the Book of the New Sun. He claims to have perfect recollection his entire life. Careful reading will lead the reader to conclude he either does not, or he is purposely trying to mislead the reader, but keeps contradicting himself.
Severian is perhaps the least reliable narrator ever; unreliable because (by his own claim) he is unsure whether he was merely a man doing a necessary job well or a violent sadist, whether he was a rapist or a genuine lover (he should know this by the end, because he has a copy of her personality, memories and thoughts in his head for most of the book) and/or whether he was, basically, the second coming of Jesus or not. The unintentional time-travel incest and meeting between three and five other versions of himself can't help.
An often overlooked aspect of Severian's unreliability is that while his head is full of details, he is not really smart enough to join the dots and understand their significance. There are pointers in the book to the author Borges (Ultan and the Library). Borges' own character Funes the Memorious likewise has a head so full that he cannot think in abstractions.
It's even possible that Severian is shooting straight and telling everything as best he can at any given moment ... but he is a man of more than one narrative voice, with more than one perspective. His various, semi-successive, and paradoxical lives seem to be less than wholly unanimous on every past event.
The Fifth Head of Cerberus uses this in several forms. The narrator in the eponymous first story spends quite some time in a fugue state resulting in ever-longer growing memory gaps, some of them several months long. The second story is narrated by John Marsch, a character in the first and third stories, who claims to have heard the story from another character (V. R. T.) who might have very good reasons to lie to him. The third story is from John Marschs diary and ties in with the other two stories, but has some inconsistencies that cast serious doubts on the reliability of Marsch as a narrator. A recurring theme in all three stories is the nature of identity (both cultural and personal), and the narrative inconsistencies play a big role in figuring out the overarching mystery.
"Seven American Nights" may be the height of this trope in Wolfe's oeuvre. First, the author of the travelogue that makes up the story states at one point that he altered the text for fear of it being read by the American secret police. Second, the author placed some hallucinogen into a candy egg, then mixed up the eggs so he wouldn't know which one was the real one. Then he ate a single egg every night. That means that at least one of his nights of experiences could have been a hallucination. And one of the eggs got stolen, so it was also possible the none of the nights were a hallucination. Finally, at the end of the story, the author of the travelogue's mother, who had been the one reading it (along with his fiancee), calls into question the veracity of the handwriting. So it's possible the entire thing is a forgery, or at the very least important parts.
Alden Dennis Weer from Peace is another very unreliable narrator, even if at first he seems to be just an old man telling stories about his childhood and youth - and who could blame him if he gets them wrong? That is, until the reader starts to realise how many people around him have a tendency to die or mysteriously disappear.
"You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly — Tom's Aunt Polly, she is — and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before."
Pretty much anything by Christopher Priest. The Affirmation is pretty notorious for this: the narrator did not spend weeks cleaning up and repainting the summer house he was staying at, he never actually wrote his memoirs, and it is never clear if he was from London and invented Jethra or vice-versa. Same goes for The Prestige, where one of the character's memoirs is actually written by a set of twins. Even The Inverted World plays with the trope, though there it's more because the narrator doesn't understand the nature of his own world.
In Alice The Fairy, Alice claims she's a temporary fairy but the illustrations make it clear that she's only a little human girl pretending to be one. As such, her claims that her mother poisoned her broccoli and locked her in a tower are very hard to take seriously.
Done excellently in Jeff Vandermeer's Ambergris books. Shriek: An Afterword features two conflicting viewpoint characters, while City Of Saints And Madmen features stories set in Ambergris, stories written by various Ambergris residents, a story about an Alternate Universe Jeff Vandermeer who gets sucked into Ambergris and goes crazy (or believes he is an author in an alternate universe resembling our own, or just decided to fuck with our heads) and stories penned in the name of various Ambergris residents but actually written by said alternate-universe Author Surrogate. And a couple of pamphlets.
And adding to the confusion, the pamphlet King Squid and the ''Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris" actually were written by real Ambergrisians-Frederick Madnok and Duncan Shriek, to be exact. So whose copy was used?
It's also done to a far lesser extent in the sequel Shriek: An Afterword, which is written by Duncan's sister Janice. She holds that she is offering a balanced yet opinionated account of her brother's life. Duncan takes issue with the first claim, and frequently disagrees with her over the course of the book.
The third book, Finch, averts this. Probably. It's narrated by the main character, John Finch, but there's nothing in the text to indicate that his narration is unreliable. However, Finch goes through so many mind screws, including a couple of literal mushroom sambas and several instances of severe torture, that it's hard to tell whether his own perception is truly intact.
The Amelia Peabody series provides a fantastic example; the narrator's depth stems from her unreliability as a narrator, which can be due to either omission or equivocation. She reports her perceptions, but despite her vaunted skills in understanding people, she routinely misses the actual meaning of events; for example, when people speaking with her begin coughing, she totally misses their disguised laughter and offers them cough drops. She also is often oblivious to her own viewpoints and prejudices, and even when she is aware of them, pride stops her from relating them to the reader. Victorian sensibilities also prevent her from discussing delicate subjects.
American Psycho. Patrick Bateman, the narrator, is clearly insane and has bizarre hallucinations (i.e., a Cheerio interviewed on a talk show, being stalked by a park bench) which he believes to be true. It's also ambiguous whether he committed the brutal (and, occasionally, preposterous) murders that he describes in graphic detail.
The Amnesia Clinic runs on this. Thematically, it's all about storytelling and liars, and for certain sequences it's unclear what versions of what we're told are true. For example, first we read about Anti's seduction by a quirky Manic Pixie Dream Girl marine biologist who renamed herself Sally Lightfoot after a bad divorce and lost her ring finger to a snapping turtle. The second time the story's told, it's recounted by Anti as all being one big lie fabricated to make his best friend Fabian jealous; the woman he named Sally Lightfoot was cold and distant, the two weren't even friends, and she had her ring finger cut off with a kitchen knife by her abusive husband. The rest, including the seduction, was a lie Anti told to make Fabian jealous, and to make reality a little less boring.
Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel starts out as a peculiar Magic Realist work, but as we go on, the narrator has occasional complete blackouts, leading us to wonder how many of the supposedly Magic Realist events were in his mind. To reinforce the theme of subjectivity, the entire narrative is written in Funetik Aksent.
The book And I Shall Take Away Mine Hand is canonically written by three figures interposing on each other, dubbed the Author, the Commentator, and the Editor. There are hints and indications they are the same person.
In the Animorphs series the books are narrated as though the characters are actually writing down the story of their adventure. Each book comes with a disclaimer from the narrator that they are changing some information to prevent being discovered by the Yeerks, including the possibility that maybe even their names are false. How much of the series is accurate or disinformation is never explicitly made clear. Towards the end of the series it is revealed that the story has taken place over the course of three years, instead of the pseudo-six months that the rest of the series had implied. The reason that the weather never turned to the cold of winter over this time, which had been mentioned as a looming threat several times in the series, is simultaneously explained to be because the Animorphs live in southern California where it is warm year-round.
The Arabian Nights could be considered an Ur-Example or Trope Maker. This literary device of the unreliable narrator is used in several tales, to create suspense in "The Seven Viziers" (also known as "Craft and Malice of Women" or "The Tale of the King, His Son, His Concubine and the Seven Wazirs") and "The Three Apples", and to create humor in "The Hunchback's Tale."
Artemis Fowl was narrated by a faery psychologist at least a decade after the events occurred, the account rummaged together through the accounts of many involved. The end of the book itself states that at least 6% was 'unavoidable extrapolation', though it was likely a much higher percentage, seeing as many of the people involved in the storyline die in the following books. The narrator himself, Dr. Jerbal Argon, is a minor character in the book (as well as the later novels), though there is a good chance that he simply added himself in for the popularity that would ensue. In addition, the epilogue implies that Artemis will be the nemesis of the fairy races in general and Holly in particular for quite some time to come, when he starts transitioning to becoming their ally in the next book.
Jennifer A. Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy (especially The False Prince, the first novel) provides an example in which the narrator rarely actually lies, either to the readers or the other characters he interacts with, and on the occasions he does tell an outright lie often points it out in the narration. Instead, his unreliability comes from his tendency to tell only part of the truth so that it is easily misinterpreted or to tell the truth in a manner that makes other characters believe he is lying or being sarcastic. In the later two books he is more forward about things, but still will often let the reader believe what the general public believes about a situation until it comes time to reveal the more complete version of the truth.
Atonement: The story seems to end beautifully with the wronged protagonists united idyllically. It is then revealed that the story read so far is written by another character, Briony, who changes the ending to try and atone for wrong she wreaked on the protagonists who really die lonely and apart.
Early on the aphorism "Today's wardroom joint is tomorrow's messdeck stew" is introduced. Meaning that anything officers discuss today will be hazily retold by the crew tomorrow.
Usually O'Brien gives both reliable and unreliable versions of events to contrast them, but occasionally only the crew's version will be told. Leaving the reader guessing as to what actually happened.
One of the central conceits of Isaac Asimov's "Azazel" short stories is that they're being told to an Author Avatar of Asimov by an Unreliable Narrator who may or may not just be making them up entirely.
Bad Monkeys has one that challenges this. Hard. Jane Charlotte admits very early to be a homeless, drug-addicted murderer. But with only a few exceptions, the entire story is told by her and while challenged by the second party, it is quite difficult to tell which parts of the story happened and which didn't. The fact that Matt Ruff states on the books page that she loves to lie makes it hard, that she might be heavily shizophrenic harder and that everything might be true with the only issue that she bended the truth to fit her story impossible to tell. It is left up to the reader to guess how much - if anything at all - is true.
James Clemens' The Banned and the Banished discusses this trope - the narrator admits that he has told many fake versions of that story, but cannot die until he tells the truth. According to the last book, his many previous versions included but were not limited to giving the main character Incorruptible Pure Pureness, making her actions For the Evulz, and making her an Idiot Hero. The final version is a flawed ordinary person who happens to be The Chosen One.
In Barkwire, it's not entirely clear how much of the dogs' personalities and social lives are imagined by the reviewers.
In The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, much of the eponymous djinni's dry wit is based on his (probably intentionally) transparent attempts to cast himself in a favorable light in the chapters he narrates. This includes frequent (and often ironic) references to his own legendary power and cunning, and constant name-dropping of his past masters (Ptolemy, notably, but also Solomon, Tycho Brahe, Nefertiti, Gilgamesh, etc. etc.) This is all the more obvious since the chapters narrated by Bartimaeus are alternated with chapters of third person narrative focused on the POVs of the other two protagonists, Nathaniel and Kitty, often covering the same events from their perspectives.
Especially noticeable on the occasion in the first book in which the events are being told from Bartimaeus' perspective, and he calmly tells Nathaniel to "Just watch and listen." The narrative immediately switches to Nathaniel's (third person) perspective, in which he says "Just shut up and watch!"
Bartimaeus: Faquarl wasn't a sly old equivocator like Tchue; he prided himself on blunt speaking. Mind you, he did have a weakness for boasting. If you believed all his stories, you'd have thought him responsible for most of the world's major landmarks as well as being adviser and confidant to all the notable magicians. This, as I once remarked to Solomon, was quite a ridiculous claim.
In an interesting twist - the above turns out to be true in The Ring of Solomon. Go figure.
Daniel Handler's The Basic Eight is told as the recovered journal of Flannery Culp, a girl in jail for the murder of a classmate... as being edited by the same girl for publication. This, coupled with the "poor me" attitude she expresses in the intro, forces the reader to be constantly second-guessing her, noting things that she may be altering to make herself look better. At one point, she believes the killer to be a third party... who turns out to be her imaginary friend. This also means that another character has been present for nearly the entire book, but Flan never saw her.
And from The Bible we have the Amalekite who appears at the beginning of 2nd Samuel to give King David the personal effects of King Saul after he fell dead in battle against the Philistines. At the end of 1st Samuel, Saul is badly wounded and tells his armor-bearer to slay him so that his enemies wouldn't make sport of him, but since his armor-bearer refused to do that, Saul falls upon his own sword and dies, and so also does his armor-bearer. The Amalekite, who comes along Robbing the Dead, tells a different story — that he found King Saul still alive but badly wounded, and Saul asks for the Amalekite to kill him, which he claims that he does. The Amalekite tells this story in the hope of expecting a reward for the cool loot he had taken off the fallen king. However, the only reward the Amalekite gets is to be killed by King David himself, since according to David the Amalekite testified with his own mouth that he had killed "the Lord's anointed".
Black Iris: The book discusses and uses the trope-Laney's lit class talks it over in reference to Lolita, and Laney, in true First-Person Smartass style, outright tells the reader she is one, and goes on to prove it by keeping information from friends, family, and the audience up until the last couple pages.
Black Legion is narrated by Abaddon's lieutenant, Khayon. While he claims that he's completely honest in his account, the Inquisition doesn't really believe him and they may be right, considering his background.
Joanne Harris' psychological thriller Blueeyedboy is told through blog postings from the eponymous character (a self-proclaimed murderer) and his online acquaintance "Albertine", both of whom take sizable liberties with the truth and blur the line between fiction and reality constantly.
Agota Kristof's first The Book of Lies trilogy (The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie) rides this trope like a pogo stick on your spine. It is really an artform the way each of the twins can lie. Even in the first book where they set in conditions that would make it impossible for them to be untruthful about anything they write in the notebook, they still manage to dupe everyone around them - and the reader - more times than could ever be counted. By the end of the third book, it ultimately becomes impossible to tell what about what actually happened due to the web of lies that both Lucas and Claus managed to weave.
The Brightest Shadow: Each POV is deep inside the character's head and so it reflects their personality and limitations. This ranges from missing details other characters notice to being wrong in ways the reader can identify to deceptions the reader needs to interpret.
Reams of paper have been written on the narrative technique used in The Brothers Karamazov, which ostensibly makes the narrator out to be a resident of the town, even placing him physically at certain events. It's clear, however, that he knows more than an observer could possibly know, and there are disturbing stretches of the narrative in which the narrator is completely absent, dissolved into the perspective of the characters. This becomes a problem when one character starts speaking with things that probably aren't there, and the critical reader will start to wonder about other times this character supposedly heard things. The real kicker though? The points at which the narrator's reliability are questioned are pivotal moments in the book, moments that affect your understanding of everything that has happened up till then.
Similarly in Demons, though in that novel, the narrator is more explicitly party to its events. He has a name (Anton Lavrentievich G-----v, and he is explicitly addressed by a few characters throughout the text), describes himself as a good friend of Stepan Trofimovich Verkhonvensky (one of the central characters), and acknowledges that he used the spectacular events that ensue as the basis for this, his "first novel." Nevertheless, lots of things are described for which he could not possibly have been present (which he handwaves as having been fictionalized from the characters' accounts, related to him later), and especially the unspoken thoughts and inner motivations of several characters strain the bounds of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
Cantata in Coral and Ivory is narrated by the main character's scribe, who won't admit that his lord acts in any way unsuited to his position. Even when his lord is a former sea captain, who continues to act like one while at the imperial court.
Captive Prince: Damen at first, blinded by prejudice. But he improves, most notably when he gets to know the Laurent behind the cast iron bitch front. Though still unreliable at some points because he is too noble to perceive actions that go against his principles, and is too blind to see what is right in front of him, as Laurent had said in the second book. In the second book, he even revisits some scenes of the first one, now having a totally different view on them, knowing that the Regent is a pedophilic, power-hungry man out to steal Laurent's kingdom, rather than a Reasonable Authority Figure.
The young woman who narrates Sabina Murray's A Carnivore's Inquiry finds that her travels are accompanied by multiple murders, usually involving some sort of horrific mutilation. The end of the novel strongly implies that the book's real title should have been A Cannibal's Inquiry.
Holden from The Catcher in the Rye is a good example. The novel is about his downward spiral into emotional trauma, but he doesn't tell the reader this and lies about how he was feeling by making excuses of "just didn't feel like it," or the like.
There is also the fact that most of the things he says shouldn't always be taken seriously, like people like Chapman have. One minute he's putting down the movie business and then the next he's recommending one of his favorites. Usually the people he calls "phonies" sometimes do the same things he does.
"I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible."
The YA superhero novel Charlotte Powers is presented as the eponymous character's journal. Although afflicted with an 'honesty curse' that means she can't tell a direct lie, Charlotte often focuses on the wrong thing, goes off on a tangent, or simply omits information. The fact that she's under psychic influence for much of the story doesn't help.
Corwin, the narrator of The Chronicles of Amber, for almost the entire series is telling the story to Merlin, giving Corwin numerous reasons to distort, add, or omit events. Added to this, Corwin is suffering from amnesia at the beginning of the story.
In Ciaphas Cain novels, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the story is told from the point of view of Ciaphas Cain - and annotated by the Inquisitor, Amberley Vail, who constantly reminds the reader in her footnotes that Ciaphas is an habitual liar, and there are too many holes that can't be backed up by other sources for this story to be taken at face value. There's also some unreliability in the way Cain downplays all of his acts of heroism, saying that they were all just to protect his own skin or his reputation, but Amberly steps in every once in a while to point out that Cain gives himself far too little credit. Yet another wrinkle is that Cain frequently uses the "humble hero" routine in-universe as a deliberate manipulation tactic, raising the possibility that he may be doing the same to the audience. Sandy Mitchellhas stated that he doesn't know if Cain is the kind-heartedDirty Coward with (very) enlightened self-interest he claims to be, or a genuine hero with an inferiority complex.
An interesting case where this is a minor plot point is the fact that Cain is predominantly concerned with things that happened directly to him. This results in Inquisitor/Editor-In-Chief Amberly Vail having to consult other people's memoirs to fill in Plot Holes, and, as she notes, they tend to have their own problems too. For instance, Jenit Sulla was serving in the the Valhallan 597th (the unit Cain was most often attached to) and is the best secondary record of his actions, but writes in bombastic Purple Prose and portrays Cain as the mighty world-bestriding hero everyone believes him to be, and a book named Purge the Unclean! provides a good overview on the setting and wider conflict in For The Emperor, but the author blames absolutely everything on a conspiracy of rogue traders.
For extra fun, Amberly is not an entirely neutral editor. While she is generally pretty even-handed, she isn't above cutting out or questioning the veracity of the bits that don't make her look good. Which includes (probably) sleeping with the self-confessed coward.
The first half of Elizabeth Wein's World War II novel Code Name Verity is told entirely through the written confession of an Allied agent to her Nazi captors. Unsurprisingly, she's not giving them (or us) the full story...
Coraline: It is theorized by several readers that because Coraline is such a Fractured Fairytale, it may very well be from the imagination of the young girl, attempting to cope with her boredom and loneliness, which appears more apparent in the novella than in the film.
Count and Countess. As an Epistolary Novel, it technically has two narrators, but it's usually a good rule of thumb that Vlad will be lying or exaggerating while Elizabeth tells the honest truth without much emotional embellishment.
John C. Wright's Count to the Eschaton: In The Hermetic Millennia, large chunks of the book are people's first person accounts of their own history. Even those who do not actually lie do have their own axes to grind.
The protagonist of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime is autistic, and while he has perfect recall and so relates everything word for word, facial expressions are naturally absent and therefore many things that may seem confusing or abrupt are simply the way they look from his eyes.
Diana Wynne Jones' The Dalemark Quartet has an unreliable glossary on the history of Dalemark at the back of each book. Much of what it says is straightforward and fills in background to the story, but frequently it puts a slant on historical events which the reader can deduce to be wrong or at least incomplete.
Damnatio Memoriae by Laura Marcelle Giebfried has Enim Lund narrating. Not only is it difficult to know if he's being entirely truthful because he's known to feel guilty about certain events involving his mother (and thus he 'remembers' them different ways), but he is also diagnosed with schizophrenia at the end of the first novel making it difficult to know what really happened and what didn't. Still, the author makes it unclear as to whether he really is unreliable, or if he's reliable and no one believes him.
In the danger.com series, one book, Bad Intent, features mild-mannered Brian Rittenhouse, the POV character who's on his school's student council. About a third of the way through the book, it actually names this trope as the POV character reveals that he is, in fact, also an online alter ego named "Lobo" and explicitly instructs the reader to look up the concept of the unreliable narrator.
The Dark Elf Trilogy is framed as being the memoir of its protagonist, Drizzt Do'Urden, and at various points in the novels, Drizzt addresses the reader directly to share his reflections or feelings about the experiences he is recounting. The bulk of each novel, however, is written from the perspective of an omniscient third-person narrator, who describes events that Drizzt was not present for, and which in some cases he could not possibly have known about. That leads to some interesting questions. For example, Alton DeVir tries more than once to kill Drizzt, supposedly for revenge on the Do'Urdens for murdering his family, except that Drizzt was born on the night the DeVirs were killed, and so is, of all the Do'Urdens, completely innocent. Nevertheless, Alton's hatred seems to particularly target Drizzt, moreso than any other Do'Urden. We are never really given a satisfying explanation for why Alton targeted Drizzt; it is possible that Drizzt just did not know why, or perhaps he knew and did not want to tell us. This is not the only time something like that happens: in the third novel, Roddy McGristle conceives a bitter hatred of Drizzt and hunts him for years, to the ends of the earth, despite relatively little provocation. Roddy's hatred seems bizarrely undermotivated, just like Alton's. Was Drizzt not telling us everything? Did he just not know what motivated Roddy, and so had to guess? There is also the fact that Drizzt spares Roddy at the end, because, the narrator tells us, he had no knowledge of any crimes Roddy had committed that were deserving of death. Earlier in the novel, however, Roddy had committed two murders. If Drizzt did not know about those—and it is hard to see how he could have—then who put them in the story?
In The Day I Lost My Superpowers, the girl claims that she has superpowers but the illustrations show that she's just making it up and/or exaggerating her mundane skills.
Several times, Greg seems to be treated as a Butt-Monkey in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. However; numerous times, he's actually being a bit of a Jerkass himself. This is one of the examples in which the unreliable narrator is actually played for laughs.
Nicely done in an understated way in Dorothy L. Sayers' The Documents in the Case. A series of letters written by each of the main characters to various other people are collected. Each person describes incidents from their point of view, each person showing themselves as paragons of virtue surrounded by fallible fools
Several Doctor Who Expanded Universe novels are narrated by people who don't have all the facts, or don't believe them if they do. Frequently, they fail to understand the nature of the Doctor (for instance, the narrator of Blue Box sees him as a wandering hacker, whose weird dress sense and refusal to give a real name isn't entirely unusual in that culture).
Machado de Assis' Dom Casmurro is an interesting case - for a long time it was believed the protagonist and narrator Dr. Bento was just in his actions, being simply and clearly cheated on by his wife. However, only years after the author's death critics begun to associate the narrative with the protagonist's faulty memory (he commits continuity errors while telling his story, and lets it slip a few times as he complains about his memory), paranoia and profession (as a lawyer, he was fairly capable of distorting stories to bring a more sympathetic vision to his own actions). Those add up for a really unreliable narrator who struggles to remember simple facts, sees things that aren't really there and wants the reader's approval.
In fact, the unreliable narrator is such a common trope in Assis' novels that the exception itself is worth mentioning: in The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas the narrator is more reliable than any other simply because he is dead. Thus he doesn't care about his life anymore and doesn't try to deceive the reader. Sometimes he stumbles at points where he had lied to himself, and even in death he keeps the rationale of life about his personal thoughts, like his rationalization as to why he didn't go through with his relationship with Eugenia (he convinced himself she had a lame leg - when actually he didn't marry her because she was poor) and how he regretted paying a few silver coins to a black man who saved his life (because he didn't like parting with money, but he convinced himself it was because the man didn't want any reward).
Don Quixote is one unreliable narrator telling a story received from another unreliable narrator to the point that you simply can't know if any of the story really ever happened or is all just fantasy. It gets even funnier when you take into account the non-canon "sequel" that was written by a different author before Cervantes finished the second part.
Played completely straight and even lampshaded: In the very first paragraph, Don Quixote's literary portrait has the narrator NOT telling us the name of Don Quixote's town, and the narrator admits he doesn't know very well if his name was Quixada, Quesada or Quexana. For the people of the seventeen century, this was an infringement of a very well known rule of the literary portrait, and so they immediately had the real impression that the author was a liar. Also, the original author (Cide Hamete Benengeli) and the Translator (an anonymous moor) comment the text when the plot is being implausible, and the second author (Cervantes), constantly remind us that this is a true history. All these tricks show that Cervantes clearly want the reader realizes that this tale cannot be true.
This is the starting point of the Perspective Flip novel The Dracula Tape. Not only does Dracula claim that many of the early events were misunderstandings and that Van Helsing is an Unreliable Expositor, but Mina was actually actively working with him for much of the story. Of course, Dracula himself is heavily implied to be twisting the tale in his own favor...
Vlad Taltos is an honest narrator, but in Dzur it turns out that some of his memories have been altered by the Demon Goddess Verra, putting his recollections into question. Sometimes he also just misunderstands things, such as calling the Countess of Whitecrest a Lyorn, when she's really a Tiassa who dresses in Lyorn colors.
Orca applies the trope to Kiera. The story is told from her perspective, and it's in this story that we learn that she's actually an alternate identity for Sethra, the Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. Until another character figures it out, Kiera's narration does not overtly betray her secret.
Paarfi of Roundwood, the narrator of Khaavren Romances, is a historical novelist who is dramatizing real events within his world. Brust has stated that Paarfi gets plenty of details wrong and sometimes just makes things up. Certain characters behave very differently within Paarfi's stories than how they behave in Vlad's recollections.
One notable contrast of unreliable narrators is the conflict between Aerich and a lowly Teckla, which is given dramatically different tellings by Paarfi and the Teckla himself in different books. According to the Teckla, it was an epic duel, while according to Paarfi, the Teckla scampers off after little more than a lordly glare from Aerich.
The teen series DRAMA! provides a subtle example. The narrator, Bryan, never outright lies to the audience, but he clearly interprets events based on his own preconceptions. For example, he goes out of his way to tell the readers what a jerk Eric Whitman is. Over the course of the series, it becomes obvious that Eric is actually an incredibly nice guy, almost to the point of being a Canon Sue. What's interesting is that this highlights Bryan's emotional growth. By the end of the series, he admits that he was being unfair.
In three books so far, Harry's narration is made unreliable by various magical influences.
Dead Beat: The psychic imprint that the fallen angel Lasciel left in his mind appears to him repeatedly in the form of "Shiela", a bookstore employee who doesn't actually exist.
Small Favor: Mab takes his blasting rod (his weapon of choice in the series up to that point) and places a mental block which prevents him from even thinking about it or fire magic only when another character draws attention to the blasting rod's absence does Harry (and the reader) realize something is wrong.
Ghost Story: In the previous novel, after deciding to become the Winter Knight, Harry set up his own assassination and then had Molly wipe his memory of doing so in order to keep Mab from becoming aware of it.
The dialogue of other characters (and the short stories narrated by other characters like Murphy and Thomas) imply that Harry is this trope for mundane reasons as well.
Harry assumes at one point that a side character note (Hendricks, Marcone's bodyguard) is your stereotypical dumb grunt, but events in "Even Hand" (a short story narrated by Marcone) reveal that said character is in fact a Cultured Badass.
Harry hero-worships Michael, and refuses to see Michael's flaws. This is to the point that when Michael loses his temper and does something that might be questionable, Harry's first reaction is to blame the world for pissing off Michael rather than Michael for doing what he did. This is in stark contrast to Michael, who is well-aware of his flaws.
Harry does not like Johnny Marcone, and is very quick to attribute nefarious and evil intent even to the most innocuous of Marcone's actions. Marcone is not good guy by any srtetch of the imagination, but not a straight-up villain either. In fact, on a good day Marcone could qualify as an Unscrupulous Hero or Nominal Hero, which only complicates matters for both Harry and the reader.
In Skin Game, there's nothing wrong with Harry's memory; he just neglects to inform the reader that Nicodemus' hired mercenary Goodman Grey is secretly working for Harry.
Wilkie Collins, the narrator of Dan Simmons's Drood, happens to be addicted to laudanum. Not to mention that Charles Dickens mesmerizes him a few pages in and never gets around to unmesmerizing him. Oops!
The Dune Encyclopedia about the Dune series is a big example of this. It is framed as an Encyclopedia within the Dune universe, purportedly 5,000 years after the events of the first novel and after the historical record has been greatly altered or lost. Several of the entries either contradict or give a different perspective on the events of the novels. It is up to the reader to determine what account, if any, "really" happened. Particularly interesting is the brief chronological timeline linking "our" time to the setting in Dune. The fictional authors of the Encyclopedia have an idea of what happened in their "distant past" ... but it's heavily filtered through the experience of thousands of years of living in a feudal system of government. World War 2, for example, is referred to as a "commercial dispute between House Washington and House Tokyo" within a British Empire that supposedly ruled almost the entire world.
Matthew Kneale's English Passengers is told from the perspective of at least a dozen different narrators. All of their accounts are of varying degrees of reliability, and many are clearly carefully editing or embellishing their stories to make themselves look better or to support their own prejudices.
Melanie Rawn uses this one to interesting effect in The Exiles. While not apparent on a casual reading, it's pretty clear that Collan's background doesn't quite add up. The only certain thing is that Gorynel Desse had something to do with it.
Actually it's easier to count the things Gorynel Desse hasn't been running from behind the scenes, wily Chessmaster that he is.
In The Exorcist by William Blatty, a young girl seems possessed by a presence who claims to be the Devil himself. Various developments point more toward a demon called Pazzuzu, but the main and central premise of the novel is that we NEVER fully get proof that there is ANY foreign entity sharing the mind of the young girl. It could all be explained away as (admittedly paranormal) activity originating ONLY from the girl's mind. This horrible doubt is perhaps the central theme of this very powerful and disturbing story - that the hellish narrator inside Reagan... is only Reagan herself. From there, we are forced to ask (along with the main character) do demons really exist? Hell? God?
In The Eyes Of My Princess by Carlos Cuauhtemoc Sanchez, you are led to believe that the book is a a love story that ended in the death of the protagonist's girlfriend. But then, almost at the end, you find out that nothing that happens after a specific event was real. The protagonist wrote fake entries into his diary, because he was disappointed about his crush's real personality.
Faction Paradox: Brilliantly done in Dead Romance, by Lawrence Miles. The Narrator freely admits she has a serious drug problem, and even hangs a lampshade when she takes a time out from describing an alien invasion to muse on the possibility that she's on the worst acid trip of her life.
"Maybe this whole book's just a list of the states of mind I was in when I wrote it, like a catalogue of all the things I've been putting into my system. Paranoia for cocaine. Multicoloured planets for acid. I'll be relaxed again soon, so you'll think I'm writing it on dope."
Falstaff uses this to play with William Shakespeare's Anachronism Stew; the editor of Sir John Fastolfe's memoirs believes they cannot possibly be true because (for example) the drink "sack" was unknown in Fastolfe's time (and therefore, from the editor's perspective, doesn't exist). However, when he reaches the point of denying Fastolfe himself exists, despite being the man's stepson, it becomes open as to which of them is the less reliable.
Done very well in The Family of Pascual Duarte, from Spanish author Camilo José Cela. Basically it tells the story of an unnamed editor(1) who finds and corrects the "memoirs" that he found in an old church, addressed to a bishop (2), who made a lot of censorship and correction on them beforehand, by Pascual Duarte (3), who admits that he mixed a lot of facts when writing them, along with the more stealthy: a) non linear narration of the events, b) subjectivization and constant digression to gain the favor of the reader and c) manipulation of the contents because of real life problems (lack of paper, tripped and mixed the pages, etc.). The purpose of the "memoirs"? to gain clerical pardon, staving off his imminent execution. That's right, guys. An editor who edits an editor who edits the edited version of Pascual's life. It is subtly implied by the end of the book that the real life author in fact "edited" the story himself, making him another step in the long line of editors the book will have (publisher's editors, academic editors, "reader editor", etc.). This, by context, was a sort of Take That! to Franquism, along with a few subtle political/social references/criticism (which make a big part of the novel objective).
Fanny Hill also features an unreliable narrator. Fanny's description of prostitution is wildly unrealistic even for the 18th century. Some also see her Convenient Miscarriage as a lie told to cover a Convenient Abortion, as Fanny had been recently deserted by her patron and was broke, owed an astronomical sum to her landlady (an abortionist), and had no way to earn money outside of prostitution - impossible while pregnant in the 1740s. Keep in mind, though, that Cleland wrote Fanny Hill so he could pay his way out of debtor's prison, and he may have written the story based on unrealistic and melodramatic "life stories" told to him by the prostitutes he met in prison which he wasn't experienced enough to see through. In other words, Fanny may have been unreliable despite the writer's intentions, not because of them.
The most prominent example in Fifty Shades of Grey is when, in first person present tense, Ana gives a detailed explanation of her surroundings and right afterwards claims that she doesn't get a chance to see what her surroundings look like.
Fight Club has the unnamed narrator who turns out to have a Split Personality disorder and is also Tyler Durden. He doesn't realize he's unreliable until two thirds of the way through the book - and when he finds out and tries to convince everybody else, no one believes him.
Flowers for Algernon has the mentally challenged narrator Charlie Gordon, whose disability means he often doesn't completely grasp the situations he encounters. For example, the "friends" he hangs out with repeatedly humiliate Charlie without his batting an eye.
For Want of a Nail. The entire book is written as a history of an alternate world where America lost the Revolutionary War, eventually breaking into the United States of America and Mexico. After such lush detail into the history of this world, the book ends with a "critique" by a scholar that notes that much of the history presented is biased and omitting key details and moments.
Frankenstein: Many readers and critics have wondered the validity of the three narrators of the story: Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and his Creature, in general. This is because the entire story is a transcript the sailor Walton wrote to his sister, Margaret. Victor himself is near death from hypothermia and telling the events from his youth years ago. The chapters showing the story from the Creature's perspective are him simply telling Victor the story of what happened after his creation (such as "After you left me") instead of "After he was left behind"), and these chapters come from a single campfire conversation. However, Victor is noted throughout the book not to trust the Creature, referring to him names such as "the fiend" and "the demon" and being paranoid that he is watching him and will kill his loved ones, which brings into question of how true any of them are. The Creature promises to give him receipts to prove the validity of his claims, but this is never referenced by Victor afterwards, and this cannot confirm the entirety of his story. Victor himself, notes that he forgot several events from the story, such as his time with his friend, Henry Clerval, and leaves how he ultimately created the Creature very ambiguous.
In Gilligan's Wake (by Tom Carson), all the narrators have a trace of this, but the Professor takes the cake. For one thing, he commits serial rape but his narcissism convinces him that this an act of generosity to his inferiors (who are, naturally, grateful). For another thing, he ends the story believing that he, like every other American, is a kaiju: it is strongly implied that he is really completely out of touch with reality, and living on the street. He is so confused and forgetful at this point that it retroactively turns the detailed, if slanted, nature of the preceding narrative into a very odd mixture of unreliable narrator and implausibly Infallible Narrator.
Tom Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie. He seems reliable until he abandons Amanda and Laura. That, combined with his final speech, demonstrate that he has strong motives to justify his actions and put himself in a positive light. In fact, we only see the ending of the play from Tom's perspective - and even though it is somewhat sad, it's suspiciously redemptive for everyone. Also, if Tom was in the right, why is his conscience plagued by memories of Laura?
Going After Cacciato: About halfway through the book, you realize that Paul Berlin is probably still in the observation tower, and the whole story is just a daydream to excuse himself of complicity in the death of Cacciato, who (it appears) the squad killed to hush him up. But again, it's postmodern, so the question is: does any of this matter?
In Gone Girl, Nick Dunne leaves out numerous details throughout the story, making the reader suspicious about how unreliable he is, and whether or not he is behind his wife Amy's disappearance. It turns out that Amy is even more unreliable than her husband, as her diary was deliberately fabricated with lies so that she could frame her husband.
John Dowell in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier cannot be trusted about anything, whether it be his awareness of his wife's infidelity or his culpability in Ashburnham's suicide.
In The Gospel of Loki, Loki describes his own autobiography as a "tissue of lies". He adds that "it's at least as true as the official version and, dare I say it, more entertaining."
In C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, the damned will do this about their lives if they can. When talking with the Bright Ones, they get (gently) called on this, but on the bus, the Tousle-Headed Poet presents his life as Never My Fault, even though it is clear he is a lazy, untalented moocher, and on their arrival, a grumbling woman blames her death on everyone around her at the time, someone should have managed to save her, although it was certain she was gravely ill — she complains of the surgery, but during World War II, when this is set, operations were a matter of last resort.
Nick Carraway: most events that he describes you can accept are true, but there's one point where he claims to have said something to Gatsby that it's possible he merely wishes he'd said. It also seems possible that he's intentionally omitted some pieces of information about Gatsby due to his desire to see and portray Gatsby as in a favourable light.
The scene when Nick gets drunk and starts losing time. It starts with "keep your hands off the lever" and somehow jumps to "[Mr. McKee] was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear". The reader is left to wonder if Nick is gay or bisexual, but Nick never mentions it (he probably doesn't know what happened either).
One of the first things he says is how nonjudgmental he is. Followed by about 200 pages in which he leaves pretty much no other character unjudged. Cleverly mocked in Hark! A Vagranthere (7th strip down).
In fact, Nick explicitly states that the reason he doesn't judge people is essentially because it's not their fault that they're morally inferior to him.
The only character he doesn't judge (or judge too harshly) is Gatsby, putting him on a pedestal. This has made some readers question if perhaps Nick only remembers Gatsby as a Messianic archetype because they were friends, while vilifying Daisy, Tom, and Jordan because they each had a hand in his death.
Lemuel Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels becomes one by the fourth journey. He describes the Houyhnhnms as the perfect civilization, despite their arrogance, elitism, and genocidal tendencies.
In The Handmaid's Tale: Offred, and Gilead in general. In The Handmaid's Tale the story ends with a pregnant Offred being told by Nick to go with a group of Guardians into a black van, unsure of whether they are the Eyes that shall execute or torture her, or the rebel group, Mayday, which will protect her. An epilogue reveals that a century later, a group of tapes were found, called "The Handmaid's Tale" by a group of college professors, Pieixoto and Maryann Crescent Moon. They were recorded by a woman who said she was a Handmaid named "Offred". However, the professors note that her version of events is very inaccurate with the Gilead history. For instance, she says that Serena Joy is a stage name, and that Mrs. Waterford's real name is Pam, but the professors say that if Serena Joy were the stage name of her mistress, then her true name would be Thelma, which means Offred either misheard her name or didn't remember or write it down. This makes the professors wonder if perhaps, Offred changed her name or her story, in order to protect the identities of her loved ones in case the tapes were discovered by the wrong people, which is why she never says her true name once. The professor even goes as far as to question the validity and authenticity of the tapes in general.
Gilead itself isn't much better. The country is very rooted in a fundamental Christian faith: prenatal care is outlawed on the grounds of abortion and many of their laws come from a Quote Mine. While the narrator is scared of Gilead, there is the constant air that like a fascist nation, Gilead is trying to use propaganda to keep a sense of normalcy.
Harry Potter has the titular hero as third-person narrator, except in a handful of chapters early on in a few of the books.note His uncle Vernon in the first, someone who worked for Voldemort's paternal family in the fourth, the Muggle Prime Minister and Narcissa Malfoy in the sixth, and Snape at a Death Eater meeting in the seventh However, his own biases and immaturity often color the narrative:
Lampshaded twice in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: in Gringotts, the narration says the path is full of stalactites and stalagmites, then Harry confesses he can't tell the difference between them. Later: "Perhaps it was Harry's imagination, after all he'd heard about Slytherin, but he thought they looked like an unpleasant lot."
The series never alludes to Dumbledore's sexuality because Harry, being a somewhat obtuse teenage boy, never even thinks about the love life of his aged mentor. Even when one of the Headmaster's school friends makes a fairly overt crack about it, the comment goes right over Harry's head. An elderly relative of Rons says in the same conversation there were always strange rumors about him and it goes over Harrys head as well.
Invoked in Hieroglyphics. Machen wrote down the Hermit's theories from memory and thinks he may have forgotten to include some things.
Sarah Caudwell's (very funny) four legal mysteries are narrated by Hilary Tamar (of unknown gender). While the stories can be considered "accurate", the narrator's roles and motivations are always given a very shiny gloss (I just happened to need a book in that room, and I just happened to need one that was low down behind the sofa. Oh no, now they've entered the room and started talking about the mystery without realising that I'm here).
The History of Love: near the end, Leo explains how he's an unreliable narrator; it also turns out that Bruno was Dead All Along, which casts the last scene with him in a different light.
Apparently Douglas Adams retconned the divergences between the book, radio show, TV show, stage play, etc. of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by explaining that the source of the accounts was Zaphod Beeblebrox, about as unreliable as a narrator can get, who never remembered the story the same way twice.
One section of the radio series, involving Zaphod's incredible escape from a particularly nasty fate, is explicitly based on Zaphod's own account. It begins:
Many stories are told of Zaphod Beeblebrox's journey to the Frogstar. Ten percent of them are ninety-five percent true, fourteen percent of them are sixty-five percent true, thirty-five percent of them are only five percent true, and all the rest of them are told by Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Approximately half of the first series of the radio drama was negated when Trillian dismissed the storyarc as one of Zaphod's psychotic episodes. Although it later turned out she was wrong.
In Horatio Hornblower, one of the chief faults Hornblower finds with himself is his "cowardice", namely that whenever he goes into action he's terrified of being mutilated or killed. Apart from the fact that he's not actually a coward because he always does it anyway, the third-person narration never has him thinking about this while he is actually in battle, only anticipation or hindsight. In one book he grabs a howitzer shell that's landed on his ship and snuffs it out before it can blow up without even thinking about it, but later he's viciously taking himself to task for having been scared of what would have happened if he didn't.
Duff, the main character in How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, is a narcissist, has an ego the size of the moon and is convinced she is smarter than the whole Squad combined. Sometimes. She also has a penchant to exaggerate things and is rather biased, resulting in a rather peculiar... perception of the whole story.
The narrator of Idlewild is an amnesiac whose memory doesn't track further than the first page of the book. He claims to recover some memories over time, but they're rosy interpretations that support his existing perspective.
Edenborn uses Switching P.O.V. to track several different characters, each of whose perspectives taint the narrative (though Penny is definitely the worst).
The protagonist Ted in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream says that Benny, Gorrister, Nimdok and Ellen all hate him because he's the youngest and because AM effects him the least. He also says Ellen claims to have had sex only twice before being brought down into AM, yet in the game she was both married and a rape victim.
I, Lucifer can likely claim having one of if not the most unreliable narrator a person could hope to find in Lucifer himself. Well, The Bible was admittedly one-sided.
In Illuminatus!, the narrator's identity is kept secret throughout most of the series as it meanders back and forth through time, through the viewpoints of various characters, some of whom do not actually exist, and through a web of hallucination, myth, and deception.
An Instance of the Fingerpost has several narrators, all of whom are various varieties of unreliable narrator. One is insane, one is a xenophobe who imputes his own nasty motives on to others, one is relatively accurate except where his own identity is concerned, and one is a nice guy who seems fairly honest and objective, until you learn that he harbors an unusual belief about a key character that casts doubt on his descriptions of several scenes.
If one is familiar with the events of I'm Alan Partridge (and to a lesser extent the other series in the Alan Partridge universe), the hideous unreliability of Alan as narrator in his predictably self-serving autobiography I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan is glaringly and hilariously obvious. Instances of Alan's cowardice, selfishness, incompetence, unpopularity, borderline sociopathy and general loathsome inadequacy as a human being are (unconvincingly) turned by Alan into tales of towering heroism, and instances where even he cannot find a way to bend reality to such an extent are lathered in incredibly obvious Blatant Lies, generous helpings of Never My Fault and Suspiciously Specific Denials which might as well be the honest truth for how nakedly transparent they are. For example, Alan's in "reality" humiliating encounter with Tony Hayers in the BBC restaurant is somehow turned into a moral victory for Alan where everyone watching gives him a Slow Clap at his moment of triumph, and his encounter with stalker Jed Maxwell becomes a surreal, OTT Bond-esque fight scene with a well-muscled Alan beating Jed to a squealing pulp (instead of, as "actually" happened, Alan being physically humiliated, somehow sweet-talking his way outside and then fleeing in terror). While less reliant on pre-existing Alan stories as I, Partridge (though some segments of the feature film Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa are touched upon, in predictably self-serving fashion), the sequel follow-up Nomad continues Alan's tendencies towards, at most generous, unreliability.
John Dies at the End is mostly narrated by one protagonist, David, and the majority of the book involves David recounting unlikely supernatural adventures to a reporter. A small part of the book (involving important events that the narrator didn't witness firsthand) is instead told by David's best friend, John, and this portion has a suspiciously high occurrence of backflips, as well as a chase scene that John resolves by "stealing a nearby horse". As David points out early on, "If you know John, you'll take the details for what they're worth. Please also remember that, where John claims to have 'gotten up at three-thirty' to perform this investigation, it was far more likely he was still up and somewhat drunk from the night before." David himself even admits that his version of events is only "mostly true." And let's not forget, the title is a bald-faced lie.
I did it according to this equation:
l = E × ∞
Which can be translated as "One small lie saves an infinite amount of explanation." I use it all the time. I've used it on you already.
The Kane Chronicles: The Framing Device is the two siblings, Carter and Sadie Kane, recording their most recent adventures. They switch off every chapter and frequently comment on what the other has said. This ranges from side comments (such as one telling their sibling to stop laughing) to outright correcting things the other sibling has said. However, the overarching story is assumed to be pretty accurate. Things just may not have gone as well as they say.
The Kharkanas Trilogy: The story is narrated by the poet Gallan to another poet, Fisher kel Tath, and in the prelude to Forge of Darkness, Gallan flat-out admits to not be telling the truth and inventing things as ge goes when he doesn't know what actually happened or to intensify the impact of the events:
No matter; what I do not recall I shall invent. [...] And if I spoke of sacrifices, I lied.
"The Repairer of Reputations", a part of the The King in Yellow features this. From the get-go, the narrator, Hildred, mentions that he suffered a head injury that led him to be committed to an asylum before being released after a couple of years, but he then vehemently insist that he was unjustly detained and that he was never insane, meaning that his account of events is already untrustworthy from the beginning. And when end reveals that he died in an asylum the previous day, large portions of plot become extremely questionable. To top it off, he even fairly early reveals that he read the in-universe "The King In Yellow", which is a Brown Note that drives you insane.
Ikkun from Nisioisin's Kubishime Romanticist never outright lied to the reader, but frequently left out important details, such as the reason he was feeling sick upon seeing Mikoko's body. It was because he had eaten the evidence that would incriminate her as the murderer, and only because he had been the one to drive her to suicide in the first place.
The Lace Reader begins with the first-person narrator introducing herself as a Self-Proclaimed Liar.
(Opening lines.) "My name is Towner Whitney. Well, that's not exactly true. My first name is Sophya. I lie a lot. Never believe me."
And the book gets less reliable from there. In the end, it is revealed that her twin sister Lyndley's suicide, which drove her motivations throughout the book, never happened; her real sister's name was Lindsey, and she died before she was born. Mae did not give her up to Emma, Mae never was her real mother in the first place, Emma was. Cal's abuse of Lyndley was actually directed at Towner. Besides these revelations, it's nearly impossible to tell what else the narrator might have lied about.
British statesman Lord Chesterfield points out a problem with telling about Real Life events in Letters to His Son: "A man who has been concerned in a transaction will not write it fairly; and a man who has not, cannot." (letter 37)
Justine Larbalestier's Liar: It's so bad that she actually lies about lying. First she mentions her brother Jordan often, then she says she made him up, then she mentions that he did exist but he died. To the point where she says she's not even sure what really happened at the end.
The Twist Ending of Life of Pi plays with this trope: At the end of the novel, the narrator offers an alternate (and far more disturbing) version of the events thus far, and tells the audience to choose which story they want to believe.
Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita uses this narrative device after the John Ray, Jr.-penned prologue; Humbert's unreliability calls into question the major plot elements of the text - does he really miss Annabel Leigh, or is it just a pedophilia justification? Even so, should his (probable) love for Leigh excuse his horrific actions? Does he really love and care for Dolores, or is she just an object to him? (Note the nickname, "Dolly".) Was she actually sexually precocious, or did he project his own desires onto her? We could go on and on. Entire theses have been written about this.
Lunar Park. The narrator is a writer named after the author of the novel, Bret Easton Ellis, who is an unreliable narrator, because he describes things the other characters don't see or feel. The main character is abusing drugs; some of the hallucinations might be to some extent related to that. Also, there is a intertextual reference: Ellis' character has apparently also written a novel titled American Psycho and he says: "Patrick Bateman is an unreliable narrator."
Ivy Gamble of Magic For Liars opens the narrative by saying shell tell the truth in this story, but she lies to herself so often that it bleeds through to the text. It gets to a point where it is obvious when she does it.
The French Sci-Fi novel Malevil is presented as the memoirs of Emmanuel Comte followingWorld War III. He doesn't have perfect memory of all events and so his friend Thomas provides correcting notes after certain chapters. In one circumstance, Thomas corrects what would be a glaring Plot Hole to anybody in-universe reading the memoir: Emmanuel doesn't mention a single word about the solution to their Polyamory situation. However, Thomas isn't necessarily more reliable, as some of his notes are less correcting of mistakes and omissions and more arguing of opinions. At one point, Thomas decides he needs to debate Emmanuel's assessment of the only woman in their group and contradict his praise of her intelligence and beauty.
The Marvellous Land of Snergs: Both Jester Bradley and Mother Meldrum paint King Kiul as a terrible tyrant who has done all kind of unspecified but horrific things. When the main characters get to meet him, he turns out to be an incredibly reasonable and fair person, and it becomes clear that he was being slandered by liars with a personal grudge.
Anika in MARZENA makes it clear multiple times throughout the story that she wasn't there when it happened. She's just a ghost writer transcribing down the thoughts and memories of the characters. As for what really happened? Who knows!? Although... the story may be fictitious, but the science is real!
R.A. Wilson's novel The Masks of Illuminati gives a human narrator, Sir John Babcock, who is fairly reliable, albeit emotionally loaded when it comes to his own experiences, but he keeps narrating events that he didn't personally witness without a hint of suspicion or doubt despite of how incredible they are. Most of them aren't even remotely true.
In Merlin by Robert Nye, Character Narrator Merlin admits he is telling the story while completely mad. One chapter involves Merlin facilitating Arthur and Morgana's relationship. The next chapter has him explain that it never happened, he just induced a hallucination in Arthur (and himself, hence the Exact Words "If this is a dream, lord, it is one I share with you") ... and then immediately reveals that this is what he thought happened, but Morgana had other ideas. There are a few other moments when Merlin hides what's going on, thinks he knows what is going on but doesn't or both simultaneously. He has, after all, gone mad and is telling this story to a pig.
Holly, the narrator of Laura Kasischke's Mind of Winter, fights with her adopted teenage daughter Tatiana while trying to get the house ready for Christmas. But there are two problems. First, Holly also struggles with her repressed knowledge that Tatiana is not the girl whom she and her husband originally intended to adopt from a Siberian orphanage. Second, as the ending reveals, Tatiana died of an undiagnosed heart defect on Christmas morning, leaving it unclear if Holly is interacting with both her ghost and that of the other girl, or has been Driven to Madness out of guilt.
Ishmael, the First-Person Peripheral Narrator from Moby-Dick, is often suggested to be one, mostly due to the famous opening line "Call me Ishmael", which has been the subject of considerable analysis. The thinking generally goes like this: Saying "Call me Ishmael" instead of "My name is Ishmael" may imply that Ishmael isn't his true name, and if he didn't tell the truth about his name, then you can't be certain he told the truth about anything else after that.
There is also the issue of the narrator's frequent digressions about whales; much of which flatly contradict the established science of the time. A fact that the narrator acknowledges at one point, stating that he prefers his beliefs on the subject over the general consensus; and further cementing his unreliability.
In Mog, the story is told from the perspective of the eponymous cat, so you sometimes get things like "the snake spat" when it was actually a fire hose, and "there was a flappy thing" when it was actually a marquee.
Daniel Defoe's fictional memoir Moll Flanders is an early case of a narrator who is unreliable on more than one plane. Superficially, Moll puts herself in the best possible light no matter what, either by glossing over the enormousness of her crimes or by blaming the victims, but her story is also logically inconsistent and ahistorical. She leaves her purportedly well-loved children in Colchester in the 1640s - in other words, in a war zone - to traipse off to America on a whim. Her "older brother", with whom she inadvertently commits incest and has a child, must be younger than her if her mother's story is true. Despite living in London in the 1660s, she does not recall the Plague, the Dutch invasion, or the Great Fire.
In The Moth Diaries, the entire story revolves around the unnamed narrator not being reliable. You get to work it out for yourself, because you don't actually find out whether Ernessa is a vampire or not. There are also some very interesting deaths in the plot, and it's fun to work out whether they happened and how much of it was psychosis.
Disney once released a short series of children's books called My Side of the Story. In them, the Disney villains claim that the events of the films were inaccurate and gave their own rather suspect accounts of what actually happened. For example, the Evil Queen insists that she gave Snow White the apple out of worry for her nutrition and Maleficent claims she just wanted to hire Aurora as an intern for her textile factory.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is written largely as a flashback told in the first-person perspective by the main character, Kvothe, and there are hints that it's not wholly reliable. One of Kvothe's companions remarks that a certain woman who shows up frequently in the story (and is the object of Kvothe's affection) wasn't as beautiful as described, among others. He actually says a character won't shows up, but uses Exact Words to lie. Further, he's just wrong from time to time. Because the narrative's descriptions of people are his own, he'll say things the audience later realizes are obviously untrue—such as when he describes his Love Interest as "naïve" or "innocent"...
The Noble Prize by German bestseller author Andreas Eschbach. Justified. The book plays mainly in the scientific community, and the narrator brings it onto himself by violating two important principles of scientific research: by ignoring Occam's razor, and fitting the data to the theory.
The beginning of Number 9 Dream features the narrator recounting a bunch of crazy action-movie adventures that turn out not to have happened. Once you get to the meat of the story this habit seems to stop, but given the narrator's established tendency to mix fact with fantasy and the many things he accomplishes over the course of the book, from the plausible-yet-mildly-improbable (finding his Disappeared Dad by complete coincidence, patching things up with his estranged mother, dating a beautiful musical prodigy (despite being kind of a loser himself)) to the cinematically unlikely (surviving being thrown into the middle of a conflict between two Yakuza factions, being instrumental in exposing a huge organization of organ thieves using a document given to him by a mysterious private detective he met only once and a program given to him by a friend who happens to be a master hacker who's just been scouted by the American government after hacking into their most secret files), the reader is left wondering whether any of it actually happened.
In Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas, Odd specifically says that he was asked to be an unreliable narrator, citing Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but indicating he doesn't really want to do that. In the end, though, Odd says that he really has been misrepresenting things; whenever he said he and his girlfriend Stormy were destined for each other, he was speaking as his past self; by the end of the book Stormy is dead and they obviously are not living happily ever after. He handwaves the whole sequence at the end by saying that both his parents are insane, and he expects madness runs in his family.
Ernesto Sabato's On Heroes and Tombs has a self-containing chapter, Report on the blind. It's about a man who believes the world is being controlled by a cabal of blind people and tries to locate their secret lair under the streets of Buenos Aires. Due to the fantastical nature of his story, in contrast with the realism of the rest of the book, it's impossible to know what was true and what was just a paranoid delusion.
There is a consistency to some of the facts in Only Revolutions. That is, certain events don't change between the two viewpoints the book is narrated from. However, for the vast majority of details, like names and places, those shift even in the same story. Is the Italian cook's name Viatitonacci or Viazazonacci or Viapiponacci? Is he even Italian? I don't know!
Pale Fire deals with an unreliable narrator in Charles Kinbote. But in Kinbote's case, he is not only narrating multiple stories, he is also interpreting (and misinterpreting) the poem of fellow university professor John Shade. But the above is only true if you assume that John Shade is a real person and that he wrote the poem in the novel. Or if you assume that Kinbote is who he says/thinks he is. You might want to also double-check who has claimed to write what part of the novel. It's safe to say that Nabokov loved this trope.
The Perfectionists and The Good Girls by Sara Shepard turn out to have not one, but two of these among the five narrators. They tell the story of five girls who discuss how they'd murder the various people they hate, only to have those murders actually happen in the way they describe. The Twist Ending to The Good Girls reveals that one of the girls, Parker, is actually long dead and exists only as a Split Personality of her best friend, Julie. The "Parker" persona was the one committing the murders, but she'd blocked out the memory of it, meaning that neither personality was aware of the killer's identity.
Played with in The Princess Bride, in which the author uses a false version of himself to provide background for his editing of the (nonexistent) original novel. Weirdly enough, though, especially in the introductions he periodically adds on for various anniversary editions (particularly about the movie), he will often reference real people and occasionally tell real anecdotes about them as well as real anecdotes about his life and then segue into an anecdote that, if you know that the book is wholly fictional, couldn't possibly have happened. Within the false original book, it is implied that the author, though he was purportedly writing a novel based on true events, did not quite know when to stick to the truth, when not, when to add in his whole long polemics about trees, etc. Especially in the 30th anniversary intro, when we learn that he was considering changing aspects of the story (and may have actually done so) in order to cater to what he and others wanted to hear, we question, even upon finding out that there is a museum with artifacts of the story, how much of it REALLY happened.
This is thoroughly and effectively explored in James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. The memoir is framed as a Fictional Document. The Sinner himself is a religious fanatic who portrays himself as a righteous Calvinist martyr and the people he's killed as horrible, horrible people. He's seemingly helped by the Devil himself, but then again, he might just be insane. The editor who researches the events in the Sinner's journal exposes many falsehoods and contradictions, but he himself isn't completely reliable either - because of his strictly rationalist outlook, he cannot reconcile the seemingly supernatural events described and tries to explain them away, even though some things don't quite make sense as a result.
Elizabeth Bear's The Promethean Age: The unreliable first-person narrator of Blood and Iron is so unreliable that, for the first third or so of the book, she narrates everything in third person, including scenes in which she herself is present. (It works, but this is definitely the Don't Try This at Home school of writing.)
In book 1, The Thief, the narrator, Gen, tells the story in such a way that the reader assumes he is an ignorant, dirt-poor, none-too-bright street thief being forced to help the other characters steal a precious artifact. Only at the end does it become clear that though Gen has never actually lied in his telling of the story, certain omissions and misdirections have allowed him to obscure the fact that he is a queen's cousin, a hereditary master thief, and the highly intelligent orchestrator of everything that has occurred in the story thus far.
This continues in the sequels, as characters interpret Gen's actions without knowing what is really going on is his head. This leads to some very interesting bits of confusion, though Attolia can be forgiven for not realizing that the man she mutilated is still completely in love with her.
Lampshaded by Bunny Manders, The Watson of the Raffles stories: "I have omitted whole heinous episodes. I have dwelt unduly on the redeeming side."
The Red Tent is narrated by Dinah. She tells the readers that she's retelling a lot of stuff that her mom and aunts have told her, from memory, and that it's been a long time, so some of the details might not be quite accurate.
The Caitlín Kiernan novel The Red Tree takes this trope Up to Eleven with not just one but at least three and at some points five levels of unreliable narration. First, there is the main character Sarah: the story is told in the form of her journal, and she's clearly losing it (a note at the beginning mentions she killed herself after the events in the story). Then there is the unknown person who collected Sarah's journal and mailed it to her editor. Finally, there is the editor herself, who is distinctly coy in her note about any details that might confirm or deny Sarah's story. If that weren't enough, there are long sections of the book where Sarah is supposedly quoting from a manuscript she found. The author of this manuscript is also of questionable sanity, and there are several places where he is quoting from sources of questionable veracity. Not only is it impossible to tell if anything in this book actually happened outside anyone's imagination, it isn't even possible to tell whose imagination it might have been. It works, though.
In The Remains of the Day, Stevens's repression of his emotions in all situations results in many moments where even as it's incredibly obvious what he must be feeling, he refuses to acknowledge having any feelings at all his father's death, for instance.
Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past/In Search of Lost Time consists of thousands upon thousands of pages of this trope. "Marcel" never explicitly acknowledges that he is unreliable, but constantly undermines his own recollections such that it's impossible to trust anything he says 100%. Of course, the entire series is an exploration of the nature and limits of memory, so yeah.
Sacred Monster: Jack isn't a first-person narrator, but while describing his life, he skips over certain compromising events and imagines what happened in "scenes" he wasn't present for.
The short story "Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story" by Russell Banks is built on this trope. The narrator Ron repeatedly insists that he was an extremely handsome, modest, and nice guy and that Sarah Cole was an extremely ugly woman he dated out of pity/niceness, but it doesn't take much reading between the lines to see that Ron is not nearly as nice a guy he tries to pass himself off as and that he constantly refers to himself in the third person because he's secretly ashamed of how poorly he treated Sarah. He even seems to realize it at the end when his narration breaks down and he suddenly begins describing Sarah as a gorgeous goddess who he stupidly and cruelly hurt, implying that not only does he know deep down that he didn't deserve her instead of the other way around but also that he might have described her as much worse-looking than she actually was to justify his treatment of her.
Robert Irwin's brilliant Satan Wants Me is built around this trope. The narrator, Peter, is a young sociology student who likes sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll, studies children's behavior in a school playground, and is attempting to be accepted into a magical lodge. Part of the requirements made of him in Black Book Lodge is to keep a diary for magical purposes, writing down everything that happened during the day. Satan Wants Me is, essentially, this diary - until in the middle of the book we find out that this young sociologist's real object of study are the occultists themselves, and after his cover is blown he keeps on writing the diary just because and because his hand makes him write sometimes.
Theodor Storm's novella Der Schimmelreiter (the rider on a white horse) puts the main story into question by the expedient of a triple framing story: 1. Storm begins by saying he is writing down from memory a story that he read in a magazine when he was young (but his memory already is so bad that he isn't sure in which magazine). 2. The narrator in the magazine tells of how he came to an in on the North Sea coast where he heard of the ghostly Schimmelreiter, and when he enquires further, 3. the local schoolmaster tells him the story of Hauke Haien, a young man who invented a more modern type of dyke who died in a storm flood and who according to popular belief became a ghost haunting that stretch of the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein. The schoolmaster tells it rationally, as a psychological drama, with no supernatural elements, but he also says that his (superstitious) housekeeper would tell the story very differently.
Timothy Kensington from the book SCIENCE! (a.k.a. "True Science") skews every event to try to fit his point of view, which is that Stratton's theories about altering reality are pure craziness. He remembers everyone wrong in order to convince everyone that his friend's theories about remembering everything wrong are insane. Yet, here he is, narrating this book, expecting you all to believe him unquestioningly.
Russell H. Greenan's The Secret Life of Algernon Pendleton is told by a man who got a brain concussion during WWII and earnestly believes that objects can have souls. Considering that his best friend is a china pitcher named Eulalia, large portions of his narrative can be regarded as doubtful at best.
A Series of Unfortunate Events: In one of her letters, Beatrice claims that the stories the Baudelaires told her of their troubles in some cases differ wildly from Lemony's accounts. Lemony himself admits that some parts of the story he basically made up, due to lack of witnesses and trace evidence, but there are a few moments when he appears to be deceiving the reader or else not being quite truthful. For instance, he claims on separate occasions that the sugar bowl and the Snicket fires both contain evidence that will clear his name, when testimony from other characters suggests that there is nothing of the kind. Then there's the timeline. During The Slippery Slope Lemony writes a letter in the novel to his sister (Kit) asking for her to meet him at the Hotel Denouement. Presumably, this is the same day where the Baudelaires are supposed to arrive there, detailed in The Penultimate Peril, and a character strongly suggested to be Lemony does indeed make an appearance. The problem is that said date occurs less than a week from the events in The Slippery Slope. Not only does that indicate that Lemony is less than a week behind the Baudelaires in tracking them—directly contradicted by previous statements that suggest at least some years have gone by—but that he also expects his book to be published and read by Kit in a week. But he certainly can't be asking Kit to meet him after the events of The Penultimate Peril because the Baudelaires burn down the hotel in that book's climax. Very, very odd.
The Shadowhunter Codex is an in-universe guide book for new Shadowhunters written by the Clave, so it is pretty biased in favor of the Clave and Shadowhunters in general. For example the book states that Praetor Lupus was founded as a form of self policing by werewolves to protect others from the dangers new werewolves pose, while in reality they were founded to prevent the Clave from killing new werewolves.
A Simple Favor is told in the first person from the perspective of three very different narrators, and none of them are completely reliable. This is due to the fact that Stephanie, the first narrator, is a not-too-intelligent idealist, and Emily, the second main narrator, is a manipulative,sociopathicconsummate liar. Almost all of Stephanie's interpretations of Emily's motives and actions are inaccurate, and the reader is kept in the dark about this for quite a few chapters.
Phil's first-person narration in Snyper isn't technically unreliable but is full of subjective filtering and misinterpretation of the facts he's presenting, such as assuming Ashley is just a Dumb Blonde secretary even though other characters frequently say otherwise.
This is one of the key reasons behind having multiple POV characters, not just to show the story from the perspectives of different "cameras" in different places, but to actually show *different Points of View*, and how two different characters can see the same event occur with completely different perspectives on what's happening due to their biases. Many distinct POVs are subtly unreliable, while others (Cersei, Victarion, the various Prologue characters), are not so much with the subtlety.
Most of the POV characters are reliable, if biased, narrators, but there's one interesting instance of true unreliability: Sansa's frequent "recollections" of Sandor Clegane kissing her during the Battle of the Blackwater. Which would be understandable, if in fact he had. During the actual scene, "for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her," but he does not; by the next book she's making occasional references to the kiss occurring, and by the fourth, she can recall how the kiss felt. Word of God confirms that it's all in her head. Sansa's misremembering what happened with Sandor is an indication that she's been so emotionally traumatized by the abuse heaped on her that she clings to the memory of someone who she saw as a protector in King's Landing, even though the kiss never happened and in fact he almost raped her.
Arya can also be unreliable sometimes in that, being a little girl, she can misread the behavior of adults or fail to grasp the real significance of what she sees.
It's also worth comparing different POVs of the same character: compare Catelyn's chapter with Jaime in A Clash of Kings, where he comes off as an obnoxious, egotistical jerkass, and Jaime's own first chapter in A Storm of Swords where he becomes bitter, biting, and well-aware of his own limits. Jon Snow has a similar disconnect; in his own chapters he reads like The Fettered, but from Samwell's POV he's an exhausted Anti-Hero. And then there's Stannis (whose head we've not got in as of yet), who from Catelyn's POV is a dour jerk, from Davos' POV is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, and from Jon's POV is To Be Lawful or Good. When we see Littlefinger from Catelyn's perspective, we feel bad for him, in Ned's, he seems like a Smug Snake, and Tyrion consideres him a formidable foe, but it's not until Sansa meets him that it's clear how utterly slimy. It should be interesting to see how other characters view Daenerys when they finally cross paths with her...
In the first three books, we only see Daenerys through her own point of view, and she sees her exploits in Essos as those of a saviour who's liberating slaves. In the 5th book, we see her from the point of view of Barristan, who is still willing to follow her, but is starting to question some of her actions, and Quentyn, who perceives her ruling as the closest thing to hell on Earth he's ever seen. It will be interesting to see her from Tyrion's point of view when they finally meet...
Tyrion tends to have this in perspectives of himself. He tends to view himself as a pragmatic idealist, trying to be the "good" member of his family while not being restricted by being foolishly honorable so he can get the job done. However, he commits a lot of morally questionable acts that he doesn't seem to appreciate, including sending an envoy to Catelyn Stark that included assassins and promising one of her daughters he didn't have, marrying the other Stark daughter against her will to appease his family, contracting the murder of people that annoy him, and outright murdering people who have outraged him with his own hands. Unfortunately, his higher view of himself in the books is portrayed as the actual reality on the television show.
Backstory is sometimes given in bits and pieces from various characters, each with their own interpretation of history. For example, Meera Reed's telling of the tourney at Harrenhal (as she was told by her father) is dreamy and whimsical, while Barristan's memories of the same event are melancholic and bitter.
This extends to the supplementary material as well. Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories and The World of Ice & Fire are in-universe accounts written by characters who, for the most part, didn't witness the events they're writing about firsthand. Archmaester Gyldayn frequently notes that history often gets lost or distorted over the years, though he himself shows some slight biases. In the latter Maester Yandel explicitly admits he's doing this; in particular he skips over Robert's rebellion entirely since no matter what he says somebody powerful will be offended.
The Southern Reach Trilogy: In Annihilation, the biologist turns out to be not entirely reliable as she withholds some information from her journal at first, like how far the brightness has already progressed within her. She claims that she does so to not seem like a compromised source, but acknowledges that this is exactly what it makes her look like.
Spider by Patrick McGrath, is narrated by the main character, who is insane. At the end of the book it turns out practically everything he recollected to the reader was heavily warped by his perception. McGrath specializes in this trope. Asylum is another excellent example.
The StarCraft novel I, Mengsk contains two sections: one narrated by Arcturus Mengsk, manipulator extraordinaire, and one narrated by his son Valerian. In Arcturus's segments, he is a perfect student, blows past his peers in every way, charms any girl he wants, is a perfect soldier, etc. etc. etc. Other people are either smitten with him (like his girlfriend Juliana) or fools (like his father Angus). In Valerian's segments, he paints a very different, much darker picture of Arcturus that's more in keeping with his video game appearances and other novels such as Liberty's Crusade. It demonstrates how, although most people are swept up by his father's rhetoric and believe the elder Mengsk is who he claims to be, Valerian has grown beyond that and sees the monster his father really is for himself.
Starship Troopers: There are places where Rico is likely describing something that happened to him in the third-person. The biggest one involves the death of the Lieutenant in his beloved Rascak's Roughnecks MI unit, where he describes the Lieutenant saving two privates before being killed. It's hinted that one of them was probably Rico.
The children's book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales combines an unreliable narrator with No Fourth Wall: First, Jack the Narrator spoils the ending of "Little Red Running Shorts", prompting the characters from that story to quit in disgust. Then, Jack's narration of his own story, "Jack's Bean Problem" is immediately interrupted by the premature arrival of the Giant. When the Giant threatens to eat Jack if he can't tell a better story, Jack launches into a recursive story in which the Giant threatens to eat him if he can't tell a better story, so Jack launches into a recursive story in which the Giant threatens to eat him if he can't tell a better story. The giant also says that even if Jack tells a better story, he'll still eat him anyway (ho, ho, ho), leading to the looping story.
Hagar Shipley (formerly Currie) from Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel fits the bill in that she is a very proud, cynical woman. It can be very difficult to discern whether she is exaggerating about somebody or if the negative attributes she applies to someone is all in her head.
Lottie is a girl Hagar grows up with, and often Hagar will dismiss her as a nobody. She also assumes that when Lottie makes a comment about her, it is meant in a derogatory manner.
Hagar describes her husband as a low-class slob who is lazy and not worth her respect; insight into Bram's character, however, can reveal that Hagar drove him to drink.
The Stormlight Archive has Shallan Davar, who has a particularly Dark and Troubled Past and has heavily rewritten her own memories to gloss over the things she doesn't want to think about. A large chunk of her plot arc involves her peeling away the layers of false memory and mental misdirection, gradually pulling up the various secrets she's been keeping from herself.
Where the narrator Mackenzie isn't lying to the audience — just frequently clueless or in deep denial. It's written so that the audience almost always knows what's going on even if she doesn't, which is sometimes subtle (the slow build-up to the revelation about Steff) and other times obvious (her overwrought Foe Yay-based crush on the Alpha Bitch, Sooni).
Additionally, the MUniverse's history is also handled this way; so far, we've heard multiple accounts of the creation of the world, all of which contradict each other. But the kicker is that the gods exist, and semi-regularly involve themselves in worldly affairs, meaning that the gods themselves are Unreliable Narrators.
Justified and exploited In-Universe in Terra Ignota. Book three, The Will to Battle, reveals that Mycroft's chronicle as presented in the first two books has been redacted to remove any signs of his growing madness, though the person responsible for that admits to have refrained from doing so in the third book due to said madness having become too intertwined with the text itself; which explains how Mycroft can see people who have been dead for over a decade and have side conversations with his presumed future reader and argue with Thomas Hobbes. In-Universe, Mycroft's madness is actually used by the heads of the Hives as a crowd control method by releasing said chronicle to the public. It contains the whole, true story of the events leading up to the war, but since Mycroft is assumed to be insane by most people it means everyone is entitled to pick and choose which parts of the chronicle they believe and which parts they dismiss as fabrication.
The Thieves' WorldShared Universe used this as a way of dealing with continuity errors between the many authors who wrote for it. A preface framing story has an old man explaining to a new arrival to the city of Sanctuary that one should not believe everything in the stories one hears, as everyone spins the stories to fit their agendas, to make themselves sound more important in a good story, or less to blame in a bad one, and two people telling the same story may have wildly different variations.
At one point in The Things They Carried, the narrator retells a story told to him by the squad's medic, Rat Kiley, prefacing it with the admission that though Kiley's stories always have a basis in truth, they are often greatly exaggerated, stating that "If Rat told you he slept with two women on a particular night, you can be safe in assuming one and a half." At another point, the narrator goes on a long rant about how a war stories' veracity has no relation to whether or not it actually occurred, and goes on to tell a "true" war story that he made up on the spot. He then states that the mark of a "true" war story is that the reader does not care if it is true.
On another occasion, he recounts a story about another of the soldiers in his unit, which he later admits was actually him.
Both in and out of universe in The Thirteenth Tale. Vida has a reputation for lying to people about her life story, so much so that Margaret refuses to work on this project without independently verifiable sources. Also, certain details of Vida's story raise questions for the reader.
In C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, at the start of the second part Orual reveals that the first half of the book was not an accurate version of what happened, but she does not have the time to revise the whole book, so she merely continues forward, explaining how she learned she was wrong.
The Time Traveller in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells forms various hypotheses about the nature of the Eloi as the story progresses. Also, due to the novel's Framing Device, the narrator's spellings of the few samples of Eloi language that readers get are likely poor reflections of the actual phonology, as neither the Time Traveller nor the outer story's narrator is a linguist by profession.
"We [Borges and a fellow writer] became lengthily engaged in a vast polemic concerning the composition of a novel in the first person, whose narrator would omit or disfigure the facts and indulge in various contradictions which would permit a few readers - very few readers - to perceive an atrocious or banal reality."
In-universe in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. One chapter quotes a diary kept briefly by the main character. Her diary entries make frequent references to her fathers illness—puzzling to the reader, since the fathers health has never been an issue. Near the end of the chapter, she records that her mother found the diary and made her change all occurrences of drunk to sick.
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs is a Perspective Flip on The Three Little Pigs. The Wolf details how every instance was a mistake or misunderstanding. Still, the pictures with the text — and the Wolf's shifty tone — can lead even a small child to doubt the veracity of his claims that he is the victim. Specifically, there's the fact that he just "had" to eat the pigs when unfortunate (and completely not his fault) events killed them because "why waste them?" Granted, the Wolf is telling his side of the story. It is possible that the more traditional story was the lie.
Twig is narrated by Sy, an eleven-year-old Manipulative Bastard who sees the world in terms of manipulators and their dupes, and all of his narration is colored by this impression-for example, it's likely that not every person he talks to has precisely calculated their words, posture, and phrasing to elicit a desired result. It gets worse when he starts having vivid hallucinations, and we're never sure if what we're seeing is real, or just in Sy's head
In Sharon Creech's The Wanderer Sophie, a 13 years old girl, is sailing in a small boat across the Atlantic, with her two cousins (both also 13) and three uncles. The story is given to us as her and Cody's (one of the cousins) diaries. At first Sophie's diary seems consistent and convincing. However, when comparing it with Cody's diary, we quickly notice that Sophie blacks out any notions that she is actually adopted. Even when somebody in her vicinity uses the word "orphan", she changes it to something else, or else outright skips it in the diary. Also, when telling Bompie's stories, she (potentially inadvertantly) adds details about him struggling in the water, like she did in the accident that killed her birth parents.
H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds makes more sense if we doubt the narrator's reliability. A progressive-minded Victorian, he is dazzled by the Martians' technology, and sees them as embodying the naïve popular view that humans were "evolving" towards beings of pure brain without "animal" functions like eating. He constantly describes them as coldly brilliant superminds, whereas their actual behaviour - their rampaging vandalism, their unpreparedness for Earth's seas, and, of course, their fatal ignorance of Biology 101 - suggests a bunch of dumb adventurers with guns running wild among helpless primitives. Given that Wells's known intention was to show the British how it would feel to be the savages they were busy conquering, this misguided admiration may be exactly the effect he intended.
Word of God says that in the Warrior Cats novel The Last Hope, Dovewing hallucinated Firestar walking away from Tigerstar, and that he actually died from wounds received fight with him. Then again, Word of God from another of the authors states that Firestar died from the smoke of a nearby tree that was struck by lightning, so this may actually be a case of unreliable God.
We Need to Talk About Kevin leaves open the possibility that Eva, the title character's mother and narrator, may have been exaggerating her son's malignancy to absolve her of any responsibility. Several times she assumes he's responsible for an incident with no evidence to support this, and on at least one of these occasions she's actually proved wrong. The end of the story further adds to the unreliability, in that the entire Framing Device was a lie — the book is written as a series of letters from Eva to her husband Franklin, who was actually one of the victims of Kevin's rampage but who most readers will assume is still alive because of the story's presentation.
Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking? (filmed as Notes on a Scandal): Barbara purports to be a cool, unbiased narrator of her friend Sheba's disastrous affair with a fifteen-year-old boy. In fact, she's a Psycho LesbianStalker with a Crush who's blatantly using the upheaval in Sheba's life to isolate and control her.
The Wheel of Time books are told through a subjective third person perspective, and any given scene is usually colored to some extent by who the PoV character at the time is. Character-specific traits and biases creep into the narrative, and some characters are less reliable than others in how they interpret events that occur around them. Nynaeve and Mat are among the biggest offenders, and the stream-of-thought narration from their point-of-view chapters will actively lie to the reader about their motivations and feelings.
Winnie-the-Pooh sometimes slips into this when the naive characters have a misconception and the narrator doesn't correct them. For instance, when Christopher Robin mentions learning about factors, Pooh thinks Factors is a person, and the narration keeps talking as though he/she/they/it really is a person.
The Witchlands: Book 2, Windwitch, reveals that some of this has been going on in the sections of Truthwitch from Merik's POV, as he considers Vivia to be an Evil Princess and his reactions to her actions and descriptions of her are coloured by this. Vivia gets her POV sections in book two, and it paints a very different picture.
Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall, while not precisely the narrator, has only a very selective section of thoughts revealed during the book, and tends to skip over thinking about many of his more morally dubious actions. At the end of the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, it is implied by another character that he chose the five men charged with adultery with Anne Boleyn because they took part in a masque insulting his former master Wolsey. This is probably true but he never thinks about this (or indeed any other reasons) while he is selecting the men.
James Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Women Men Don't See" is narrated by a super-manly shadowy ex-spy Mighty Whitey who thinks he knows what kind of story he's in—after the plane crashes, he's going to assume leadership and save the female passengers in the plane crash with the help of the obedient Maya pilot. He's utterly, utterly wrong, and you have to read around the edges of his ego and his narration to figure out what's actually going on. (A good critical essay describing the technique is over here.)
In chapter 10 and occasionally thereafter, Taylor does not realize Imp is present due to Imp's Perception Filter powers. This also causes her to misrepresent certain aspects of Imp's powers, because... well, she can't perceive them.
In chapter 14, Taylor is affected by an agnosia plague, which causes her to inadvertently misrepresent several important details. The people she believed to be Grue and Tattletale are actually Jack Slash and Bonesaw.
In chapter 30, after Taylor becomes Khepri and begins to lose her memories, the narration noticeably shifts to account for that lack of information.
More generally, the entire story is first-person and filtered through Taylor's fairly major hang-ups and biases. The third-person interludes show different characters ruminating on some of the same events with very different contexts and interpretations.
In Wuthering Heights, there are two main narrators. Mr Lockwood who is telling us the story, and Ellen Dean who is telling him about Heathcliff. Lockwood is shown very early on to be unreliable as he describes Heathcliff as a "capital fellow", only to later learn that that is really not the case. Ellen 'Nelly' Dean herself is full of biased opinions, and is very judgmental of most of the other characters. She is also unreliable as a character, as she happily spills the personal details and secrets of all the people who have confided in her to a complete stranger with little hesitation.
An alternative interpretation is that there is only the one narrator, Mr Lockwood, but unreliability is piled on unreliability. We know he is unreliable in his own first-hand account, so there has to be some doubt about his reporting of what Nelly Dean told him. And what of his reporting of what other characters told her? It can seem like a game of chinese whispers.
A short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, features a narrator who is unreliable on all levels. Is she driven to insanity? Is she already insane from the beginning? Is the house actually haunted? Is she actually dead? If she isn't insane upon her arrival, at what point in the story does she turn insane? Are the peripheral characters of the story real, figments of her imagination entirely, ghosts, or real but turned into different characters via her delusion? Are any of her observations trustworthy, such as the description of her room and reasons why there are bars on the windows and hooks and rings in the walls? There is evidence to support any of the possible theories, and, since the narrator actually is insane by the end of the story, absolutely none of the questions are answered.
This is part of the unique quality of the non-fiction book "You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life" (subtitled "You Are Raoul Moat"), which explores the state of mind of the British spree killer Raoul Moat both before and after he goes on his rampage. The whole point of the book is that it documents what Moat himself is thinking and feeling, in the second person, and his reasonings for doing what he did - however the book makes it abundantly clear that his perception of events and his own actions (and therefore, in context, your perception of events) are often vastly at odds with reality (particularly where it comes to his violent behaviour and his ex partner's fidelity), often bluntly suffixing Moat's/your thoughts with a direct contradiction of what he/you is saying and thinking.
Robert Bloch's classic short story "Yours Truly Jack the Ripper" is a great example. Set in the modern day, the first-person narrator relates an incident in which a friend of his becomes convinced that Jack the Ripper killed all those women as part of an occult ceremony to attain immortality. He assists his friend in his investigations and helps him track suspects but the big twist is that the narrator himself is Jack the Ripper, and while his friend's theory was correct, he had the wrong suspect. This is revealed in the final line of the story when the narrator, holding a knife, says, "Just call me... Jack!" Bloch never cheats - you can re-read the story knowing the ending, and it remains internally consistent, although it changes from an odd little comedy to a chilling thriller.
Robert Pirsig's novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance deals, partly, with the unnamed narrator's attempt to stave off the re-emergence of his former "insane" personality, nicknamed "Phaedrus", and thereby protect his young son from sinking into madness himself. However, in the end, he realizes that "Phaedrus" is in fact the saner and more authentic personality, whereas his "normal" self is a facade which has in fact caused his son's mental problems. When he embraces and integrates his Phaedrus-self, father and son are healed and reconciled.
Scott Alexander's Unsong is narrated by Aaron-Smith Teller, a Kabbalist who interprets every event as some sort of elaborate metaphor and insists that "nothing is ever a coincidence". Towards the end, Ana receives a revelation from God confirming that Aaron is wrong; coincidences do in fact exist and are actually quite common.
Another Note is narrated by Mello. He is biased in favor of L, having been raised to be his successor, and states openly that he sympathizes in some ways with B, because both he and B are Always Second Best. Also, Mello is telling a story that he heard from L, who heard the details from Naomi, so Mello is filling in a lot of blanks he couldn't possibly know. (He lampshades this too, giving a Shout-Out to the above-mentioned Holden Caulfield, calling him "The greatest literary bullshitter of all time.")
Accelerator, on the other hand, thinks of himself as a irredeemable villain for his actions. Even after he has his HeelFace Turn and softens a lot, he maintains this mindset. Notably, he goes out of his way to prevent collateral damage in a fight but considers this merely enough to make him a "first-class villain", causing his opponent to wonder what Accelerator would consider an actual hero.
Then there's Shiage, who lacks any kind of supernatural power unlike the previous two. He therefore has a normal human's perspective on events, but this still isn't the same as being accurate. He considers Accelerator to be at the absolute apex due to being the strongest esper (there are many entities in the setting that would easily beat Accelerator) and has barely any idea that magic exists.
In Danganronpa Zero it's deliberately used during the chapters where Ryoko Otonashi is the narrator, as she has both retrograde and anterograde amnesia, making her constanly forget things she should already know and people she has already met. However, the chapters written from other characters' perspectives aren't that reliable either, with narration hiding certain facts or even lying to the reader.
Kyon from the Haruhi Suzumiya series is a possible example here. Despite the title, he's the main character. He's also the narrator, and it seems at times he confuses the two. Dialogue made by himself the Narrator will be responded to by other characters as if he the Character said it; while he the Narrator will point out details that he the Character is either ignoring or supposedly isn't aware of. It's to little wonder that this has made a few people paranoid about him.
Also, Kyon usually knows much more than he admits, even to the reader. His habit of stating to wordy characters "I don't understand you," contrasts with his tendency to go off on downright cerebral tangents in a way which is...frustrating. Ignoring completely that his understanding of whateve is being discussed is often immediately made clear by the narration.
There have been passages where Kyon has begun to iterate a thought, then cut himself off and invoked Selective Obliviousness because no no, it's best to not even think that. Who knows how many ideas character-Kyon refuses to consider and how many facts narrator-Kyon deliberately twists? The great mysteries of the series are divided between things Kyon presumably doesn't know at the time the story is set, and things Kyon has neglected to mention including any part of his real name. After eleven novels, it looks like it's either plot or capriciousness. There's also undeniable color to depictions of Kyon and those around him.
Nokko in Magical Girl Raising Project Restart is one of the main POV characters, yet she somehow manages to avoid mentioning that she's the Evil King who is supposed to kill everyone else in the game until it's revealed.