Catherine Steadman's 6 favorite books with unreliable narrators
The actress and author recommends works by Henry James, Caroline Kepnes, and more
Former Downton Abbey actress Catherine Steadman is the author of Something in the Water, a New York Times best-seller, and Mr. Nobody, a new psychological thriller. Below, she names her favorite books that feature unreliable narrators.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898).
The reader plays jury as the narrator of this gothic tale tries to explain the events that led up to the death of a child in her care. Did she do something terrible — or was it something else in that house with them?
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996).
A social satire about the existentialist dread brought on by consumerist societal norms, Fight Club features a narrator whose life is without meaning until he meets two enigmatic strangers. If you still haven't read this, the twist is a corker.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018).
The narrator in this story has almost everything on her side — youth, good looks, wealth, and an Upper East Side apartment — but she can't seem to quite connect with the world around her. In order to reset herself after her parents' death, she decides to "hibernate" for a year in her apartment with the help of prescription drugs supplied by her incredibly odd doctor. Dark and hilarious, with a central character you'll love to hate.
You by Caroline Kepnes (2014).
Bookstore employee Joe Goldberg is looking for romance in all the wrong places. Kepnes' writing is razor sharp and darkly humorous in a serial-killer love story that is definitely worth a read — or even a view, as the first two Joe Goldberg novels have been made into a Netflix series.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
Another confessional novel, one whose narrator tries to explain how and why he murdered a man named Clare Quilty — and in the process confesses to more devastating crimes and desires.
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski (2000).
A novel in "found footage" form, House of Leaves essentially promises its readers a literary version of the video in The Ring. If you read it, the story will follow you next; if you stare into the void, it stares straight back at you. The original novel, buried under layers of footnotes and additions we're meant to believe were left by previous readers, is about a couple who move into a house that somehow is bigger inside than out. Read it if you dare!
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