If you love books with unreliable narrators, these are the unreliable narrator books with plot twists that will leave you questioning everything you are told.
When you read a story, there is an implied level of trust between you and the narrator. You are using their words to enter the story. But what happens when you can’t believe the storyteller?
There is something so memorable about books with unreliable narrators. Not being able to trust what you are reading keeps you constantly on edge and allows for plenty of exciting surprises.
Here is my list of the best unreliable narrator books. I’ve thrown in psychological thriller books with unreliable narrators, YA books with plot twists, classic unreliable narrator books, books that make you rethink everything, and historical fiction with twists right from the start.
The Best Books with Unreliable Narrators
Gone Girl took the book world by storm with its look at a marriage gone terribly wrong. On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne mysteriously disappears. At the top of the suspect list – her seemingly perfect husband Nick. Both husband and wife aren’t who they seem to be, so expect plenty of twists and turns (and lots of language) in this hit thriller. You might not end up loving the story or the characters, but I promise you, you’ll find them memorable enough to land it among the best books with unreliable narrators ever written.
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
From the beginning, you will assume you are reading a book about a jealous ex-wife obsessed with her replacement. But appearances can be deceiving. Considered one of the best thriller audiobooks of recent years, The Wife Between Us will keep you glued to your seat with unreliable narration and plenty of plot twists.
You will have to settle for a vague description of this book, which is now a top TikTok sensation because I don’t dare risk spoiling it for you. As the protagonist Cadence slowly starts regaining her memory and all the details of what happened start becoming clear, half the fun is in trying to figure out what is going on. I enjoyed trying to piece the mystery of this book together. All I can say is that at some point, this story will make you cry. But that is all the spoiler you will get from me.
One night, famous painter Alicia Berenson shoots her husband in the face five times, and then never again utters another word. Now criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to get the truth from this silent patient while his own life is falling apart. Even though I will admit the twist was well done and certainly memorable, I thought this was an overrated bestseller. Yet, with over fifty weeks on the bestseller list, most readers tend to disagree.
Taking the same train to work every day, Rachel is fascinated by a woman who lives along her route. Every day, Rachel gets a glimpse into this woman’s “perfect” life. Until one day, when Rachel witnesses something shocking. Unreliable narrators like Rachel make for the best page-turners because you can never figure out what is true and what is not. Love it or hate it, The Girl on the Train is one of the most talked-about books with unreliable narrators of the last decade.
One summer day in 1934, 13-year-old Briony Tallis misunderstands a flirtation between her older sister and a neighborhood boy, with devastating consequences. Now, as World War II rages, an older Briony starts to realize the reality of what happened and the full repercussions she has caused. Can Briony find atonement or is it too late? No matter what you do, make sure to read until the very end, because the ending is what makes you rethink everything you just read.
Twisty Books with Unreliable Narrators
A. J. Finn
In one of the top unreliable narrator books, peek into the life of Anna Fox, a New York City recluse suffering from extreme agoraphobia. While spying on the family across the street, Anna witnesses a shocking event, but no one will believe her. With its unreliable narrator and layers of secrets, The Woman in the Window will keep you guessing to the end.
It all starts when sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses her mother Dorothy stab a man to death on a calm summer day. If that doesn’t get your interest piqued, I don’t know what will. Kate Morton beautifully unfolds the backstory of Dorothy’s life during World War II. The more you learn about Dorothy, the more you’ll keep wanting more. If you love figuring out the twists and turns of novels, you’ll love this book. I, for one, did not guess the ending.
After winning a trip to a remote Scotland getaway for the weekend, Adam and Amelia try one last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Amelia is tired of Adam putting his work as a screenwriter before her and Adam is just tired of Amelia. As things start to unravel and their past is revealed through secret anniversary letters Adam has never read, you find that someone is lying and someone doesn’t want them to end with a happily ever after.
To be near his mother in a dementia care facility, newlyweds Sam Statler and Annie Potter move to Sam’s sleepy New York hometown. Working in a downstairs office, Sam doesn’t realize his therapy sessions with his mostly female clientele can be heard from a vent in the office upstairs, a temptation too big to resist. After Sam disappears one night in a storm, Annie wonders how well she really knew her husband. If you want a story with an unreliable narrator, you can’t miss Goodnight Beautiful, a very quick read that will surprise you with not one, but two well-executed twists you will never see coming.
All children have imaginary friends, but Georgina begins to wonder when her seven-year-old son tells her he met a new friend, New Granny, at the park. Is Georgina just overreacting with the recent death of her mother still so painful? What if his imaginary friend isn’t imaginary? A great book with an unreliable narrator, The Woman Outside My Door does an excellent job throwing in plenty of red herrings, and keeping you on your toes the whole time.
Psychological Thrillers with Unreliable Narrators
Lo Blacklock is a travel writer sent to cover a luxury cruise through Norway’s fjords. When she thinks she witnesses a murder, Lo becomes enthralled in figuring out what happened to the woman in Cabin 10. This psychological thriller is a quick fun read that will keep you wanting more. Good thing Ruth Ware is a great author to binge read with plenty of exciting titles to choose from.
On her forty-fifth birthday, Alix Summers runs into Josie Fair, who happens to also be celebrating her forty-fifth birthday. Soon Alix runs into Josie again, and the two become friends. Josie thinks her interesting life would be a great subject for Alix’s true crime podcast. Josie manipulates her way into Alix’s life and home before mysteriously vanishing. Suddenly, Alix unexpectedly finds herself the subject of her own podcast and must uncover Josie’s dark secrets to protect her own family. Jewell does an excellent job mixing after-the-fact documentary and podcast interviews into the plotline to keep you wondering how much of Josie’s story is true.
When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls disappeared from her small Louisiana town and she was the crucial witness that convicted her father as a serial killer. As her wedding approaches, Chloe fears the past is repeating itself when teen girls start vanishing. Is she imagining the parallels to her past or is the past truly coming back to haunt her? Willingham times the revelations to heighten the tension, leaving you with plenty of twists and turns to give you a fast-paced read.
During her senior of high school, Maya’s best friend mysteriously dropped dead in front of Frank, a man they had been spending time with that summer. Trying to kick the addiction that helped her cope with her friend’s death, Maya is shocked to see a YouTube video of another teenage girl dropping dead in front of Frank. Returning to her hometown to search for answers, Maya finds clues in her deceased father’s book that make her reevaluate her past. Reyes paints an atmospheric scene with an unreliable narrator in this Reese Witherspoon book club pick.
Liv Reese wakes up in a New York City cab and nothing is like she remembers. Strangers are living in her brownstone, her phone is missing, and her hands are covered in blood with the message “Stay Awake” penned all over them. Two years ago, she was a successful writer in a new relationship, and now with the news talking about a crime scene with “Stay Awake” scrawled in blood, Liv must run from a crime she doesn’t remember.
Literary Unreliable Narrators
R. F. Kuang
Although June and Athena went to school together, Athena has found major success as an Asian-American novelist while June struggles to get a foot in the door, probably because she’s just another basic white girl. When June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she impetuously snatches up Athena’s unfinished work. Publishing it as her own, June rebrands herself as a racially ambiguous Juniper Song and becomes an instant bestseller. Yet as the truth threatens to come out, June must decide how far she is willing to go to keep her secret.
Growing up, Piscine “Pi” Patel loves spending his time at the zoo his parents own. When his parents decide to move their zoo from India to Canada, he finds himself on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, never suspecting that a storm will leave him stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific struggling to survive for months at sea with a Bengal tiger as his only companion. With just a few simple sentences near the end, suddenly Martel makes you pause and reevaluate everything you just read.
In Ishiguro’s imagined future, carer Kathy H reminisces about her childhood at the English boarding school Hailsham. Right away, you know something is off about these kids and this school. Although raised with plenty of luxuries, the students are not told anything about the outside world, until they begin to discover the truth for themselves. One of my least favorite books, Never Let Me Go gets a mention among the books with unreliable narrators because it’s one of the most popular dystopian novels for adults.
Jason Mott’s contemporary novel showcases two parallel storylines. In the first, an unnamed Black author sets out on a publicity tour of his latest book. During the tour, he keeps encountering the Kid, a possibly imaginary child. Along with this story, Mott interweaves the tale of Soot, a young Black boy facing injustices in the rural South. As the plot converges, Hell of a Book looks at the costs of racism in America and surprises readers with one final twist.
If you want uplifting books with unreliable narrators, you’ve found the perfect choice in socially awkward Eleanor Oliphant. She has the habit of saying exactly what she thinks and much prefers to spend her weekends at home talking on the phone to her mother. When Eleanor and her slovenly coworker Raymond help an elderly gentleman after a fall, the three become friends and Eleanor learns that opening up isn’t always a bad thing.
Can’t-Miss Unreliable Narrator Books
Having taken time off from her job as a detective, Elin Warner agrees to attend a celebration of her estranged brother’s engagement. At a minimalist Swiss five-star hotel that used to be a sanatorium, Elin immediately feels on edge. When her brother’s fiancé disappears and a storm shuts off access to the remote hotel, all the guests begin to panic and Elin must use all her skills to find out what is going on.
Reclusive former movie starlet Lana Farrar invites her closest friends to her private Greek Island. Having recently discovered her husband’s affair, Lana intends to confront him. As bitter resentments between old friends come to a head, a cat-and-mouse game ends in a murder. Told through the enigmatic narrator Elliot Chase, The Fury will keep you guessing as to what actually happened on that island.
Five-year-old Jack has lived his whole life in Room. It’s his whole world where he lives with his Ma all day long. At night, Ma shuts him up in the wardrobe for protection when Old Nick visits. What Jack doesn’t realize is that his mother doesn’t view Room as home, but as a prison where she is being held captive. Narrated from Jack’s perspective, Room haunts you with unimaginable horrors witnessed through the innocence of a child.
When a beautiful woman shops at the New York City bookstore where he works, Joe Goldberg googles her and discovers she’s an aspiring writer. Extremely active on social media, Guinevere Beck doesn’t realize how much information about herself she is giving away. After arranging a “chance” meeting, Joe meticulously enters Beck’s life, first as a stalker and then as a boyfriend, making sure to eliminate any obstacles he finds in his way.
Modern Classic Unreliable Narrators
If you want a quick classic mystery, Agatha Christie is the way to go. You’ll have fun trying to figure out whodunit in this book, set on an isolated island mansion where the suspects start dying off one by one. I’ll be impressed if you figure it out. I never did. A classic for a reason, this novel is surprisingly short, leaving you plenty of time to read even more books from the golden age of detective literature.
Daphne du Maurier
Working as a lady’s maid in Monte Carlo, the narrator is swept off her feet by the handsome widower Maxim de Winter. After a rushed courtship and impulsive marriage, she returns as his wife to his beautiful estate, Manderley. Yet, she quickly learns she is not the true mistress of the estate, as the household will not let her forget the memory of Rebecca, de Winter’s first wife who drowned the year before.
In 1926, everything seems to be going well for door-to-door salesman Joe Trace. Until he shoots his teenage lover to death and his wife attacks the corpse at the funeral. One of the best-known modern books set in the 1920s, Jazz is a story about passion, sex, jealousy, murder, and what it means to be human.
Vladimir Nabokov’s provocative classic tells of Humbert Humbert, a man who falls hopelessly in love with his landlady’s twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores Haze. Marrying Mrs. Haze just to be close to Dolores, Humbert eventually sexually abuses his stepdaughter, whom he nicknames “Lolita.” A beautifully written story about a deplorable subject, Lolita is one of the most controversial books with unreliable narrators.
How to describe Slaughterhouse-Five? It’s a postmodern anti-war science fiction World War II novel, which gives it a unique place among World War 2 books. The unreliable narrator tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim, a time-traveling man being held in an alien zoo. Through flashbacks, we relive Billy’s capture during the Battle of the Bulge, life as a POW working in a slaughterhouse (Slaughterhouse #5) during the Dresden firebombing, and his subsequent life after the war. If you can get past Vonnegut’s strange style, his discussion of fate, free will, and death earn it its place among the best unreliable narrator books, for, “so it goes.”
A perfect example of books with unreliable narrators, We Have Always Lived in the Castle recalls the lives of sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood living with their disabled uncle. Six years ago while eating dinner, most of the Blackwood family died from poisoned sugar. Even though Constance was acquitted, the villagers shun her and the family. When an estranged cousin arrives, he upsets the balance between the sisters and threatens to bring to light hidden secrets.
“The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.” Although best known for its film adaptation, Palahniuk’s cynical book is also worth a read. Depressed by his lackluster job and lackluster life, the male narrator becomes enthralled by Tyler Durden, who holds secret underground boxing matches in the basement of bars.
YA Books with Unreliable Narrator
Karen M. McManus
In her debut novel, Karen M. McManus gives you a fascinating young adult book with a twist. Five students walk into detention one afternoon: intelligent Bronwyn, gorgeous Addy, athletic Cooper, bad boy Nate, and outcast Simon: who dies before detention is over. Simon was the creator of the high school’s gossip app that was just about to be released, and contained exposés on the other four students, making each of them suspects in his death.
Code Name Verity immerses you in a world of intrigue with the story of a British spy, Agent “Verity.” Captured when her plane crashes in occupied France, Verity is interrogated by the Gestapo in an attempt to learn of her mission. As she confesses under torture, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what secrets she is willing to exchange for her life. How far is she willing to go for her mission? A brilliant and emotional read that makes a great book club recommendation.
Brilliantly gifted and supremely logical, fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, a teenager with autism, can easily relate to animals but struggles with human emotions. When Wellington, his neighbor’s dog, is killed, Christopher sets out to solve the case just like Sherlock Holmes would.
In a series of letters, fifteen-year-old Charlie narrates his struggles to adapt to his first year in high school, especially after the suicide of his best friend from middle school and the death of his beloved aunt. He befriends two seniors, Patrick and Sam, and together they navigate a difficult year. One of the best coming-of-age books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits on the tough topics of abuse and mental health.
Megan Whalen Turner
Among the best fantasy YA books with unreliable narrators is The Queen’s Thief series. Sitting in the King’s prison is a young thief named Gen who claims he can steal anything. So the king and his Magus put him to the test, needing him to steal a treasure that will let the King control other lands. But Gen has an agenda of his own, and it’s anyone’s guess which side he is on.
What Are Your Favorite Books with Unreliable Narrators?
What do you think? Do you love unreliable narrator books? What books did I forget to add to my list of books with unreliable narrators? As always, let me know in the comments!
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