The Millions

Observers, Bystanders, and Hangers On: Ten Novels with Unlikely Narrators

Many—maybe even most—of my favorite books are novels narrated by an observer who does not consider themselves the main actor in the story. Think Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby’s sort-of friend, the perfect mournfully sardonic narrator for one of American literature’s most enduring novels. I love stories told by the supposedly innocent bystander; the less charismatic best friend; the hapless fan or scholar whose own life recedes in the shadow of their subject of adoration.

I especially love books like this because they are honest in two ways other narrative forms are often not. First, a non-protagonist narrator acknowledges the fact that storytelling is always, always about perspective.

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