Unreliable Narrators and Ourselves: Background information when reading Genuine Fraud

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Genuine Fraud

by E Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart X
Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2019, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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About this Book

Unreliable Narrators and Ourselves

This article relates to Genuine Fraud

Print Review

Unreliable NarratorAmerican literary critic Wayne C. Booth coined the term "unreliable narrator" in 1961 in his most famous book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, and the concept was later refined by Hamilton College professor and narrative theorist Peter J. Rabinowitz: whether it is clear from the outset or revealed at the end, the unreliable narrator causes readers to question what they have read, and to reevaluate the message of the text. This may sound counterproductive, but sometimes, by not being able to fully trust in the world they become invested in, readers can explore the themes of the text more deeply – precisely because the validity of what is presented has to be questioned.

Without question, Jule – in E. Lockhart's Genuine Fraud – is an unreliable narrator, and studying her is a great way to truly get a sense of the literary device. The more we learn about Jule and her motivations, the less we can trust what she is saying and the less we believe the ways she reads the other characters in the novel. But that is also what makes the novel interesting – the unreliable narrator that simultaneously shapes and skews the reader's view of the text. What is almost most satisfying is that readers never know if Jule's unreliability is the result of calculated manipulation or something undiagnosed, but it almost doesn't matter. The darkest realization for readers is connecting with a truly unredeemable villain, which shows how an unreliable narrator can force someone to question his or her presumptions of what right and wrong are. Where at first readers are led to believe that Jule is the victim in some way, by the end of the novel they are stuck grappling with feelings of both empathy toward a girl with no options, searching for a way out of her own desperate situation, and disgust for the manipulation and violence that has been committed along the way.

Most importantly, beyond grappling with Jule's actions; readers have to reconcile their disgust – as more information comes to light – with the empathy and almost pity first felt towards Jule. She manipulates her surroundings, carefully hiding her secrets, but before readers see that, they see a strong but lonely young woman, perhaps, even in some ways, a reflection of themselves. This is the real power of unreliable narrators – we see ourselves in them before being forced to contend with their flaws, and that causes us to also contend with our own flawed presentation, as well as that of human nature.

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This "beyond the book article" relates to Genuine Fraud. It originally ran in September 2017 and has been updated for the May 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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