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Monday, September 14, 2015

In Search of Fiction with a Particular Twist

This post requests the gentle and well-read readers' suggestions for fictions with a particular twist.

The fiction is most likely a short story or novel. It could be a movie, but due to the nature of the narrative that would be very difficult to do well. It is quite possibly genre fiction, most likely science fiction or mystery. As it relies on the trope of the unreliable narrator, it is unlikely to have been produced before the twentieth century.

The narrative begins pleasantly, but conventionally. Characters and settings are introduced. Events transpire of sufficient interest to keep the reader's attention.

Then, small glitches start to appear. Characters unaccountably appear or disappear from events. Other characters start using language that appears inappropriate to their stated background. But the reader can still attribute these things to authorial or editorial oversight.

Then, the glitches become more frequent and noticeable as the narrative progresses. Characters say things they could not possibly know and act in ways contrary to their apparent motives.

Then, the glitches become even more jarring. Events seem to lead to other, important events which are omitted without explanation. Cause appears chronologically after effect. Characters die and return to life for no stated reason.

As the fiction approaches its climax and the reader begins to wonder how this mess ever got past an editor or why he is wasting his time reading it, it becomes clear in a flash that the actual events were quite different from the narrated ones.

The twist could fall within any of a number of categories:

  • The narrator is literally losing his mind as the narrative progresses. This is revealed, for example, by a concluding signature stating that the narrator is a resident of an insane asylum.

  • The narrator has committed a terrible act, such as a murder, and is trying to conceal all the clues of it from a supposed audience of investigators. As the narrative advances, this becomes ever more difficult and edits become more obvious.

  • Similarly, the narrator is trying to conceal the terrible act from himself and the narrative is an extended rationalization which the narrator presents to himself.

  • The narrator is quite honest, but before the narrative reached the reader it fell into the hostile hands of another character who crudely edited it to advance his interests.

  • The narrator is an honest and strangely-articulate simpleton who missed, misinterpreted, and misremembered the events of the narrative and recounts them without any awareness of their implausibility.

  • The narrator is honest and intelligent, but the narrative's events scrambled his memory. The narrative is an effort to recover the true events by recounting them exactly as they appear in the narrator's memory, even as he is aware how flawed it is.

Surely there must be many, even more interesting possibilities.

Can any reader suggest good—both in the sense of fitting the pattern and being of merit otherwise—examples? One thinks that one has encountered this type of fiction before (perhaps in one of the later Agatha Christie novels?), but cannot name an example at this point. Any suggestion serving either to refresh one's memory or to suggest further reading within that interesting pattern would be very welcome.

Please offer suggestions in the comments section.