18 books with the most unusual narrators
When it comes to narrators, these authors don't discriminate. Their storytellers can be inanimate objects, animals, 5-year-olds, dead, or undead. We've rounded up the novels, short stories, and metafiction with out-of-the-ordinary narrators.
Delicious Foods, James Hannaham
Narrator: Crack cocaine
This novel centers around Darlene, a woman who is unable to cope with her husband's death, abandons her son, and is tricked into forced labor on a produce farm. As she attempts to escape and reunite with her young child, she must also battle her drug addiction. In fact, one of the narrators of the book is the drug itself, crack cocaine.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Personified death pops up in literature all the time, and this World War II novel is no exception. In the book, a German preteen begins stealing books that the Nazi Regime wants to destroy — and learns to read and write in the process. Death seems a fitting narrator for the book's setting during the Holocaust, when Jewish people and other marginalized groups faced genocide.
Nutshell, Ian McEwan
Narrator: An unborn child
In a nutshell (ha!) it's Hamlet, but told from the perspective of a surprisingly competent unborn child.
Room, Emma Donoghue
Narrator: A 5-year-old boy
You may remember the independent film of the same name. Didn't make much of a splash — Oh, wait, it was nominated for four Oscars and won one for Best Actress. The novel is told through the eyes of a 5-year-old boy who is trapped with his mother in a small room, knowing nothing of the outside world.
My Name Is Red, Orham Pamuk
Narrator: Several, including inanimate objects and a color
This Turkish 2006 Nobel Prize winner, about miniaturists in the 1591 Ottoman Empire, uses a different narrator for each chapter. They include people (real and mythic), ideas, and sometimes inanimate objects: a murdered corpse; a coin; Satan; two dervishes; and the color red.
Watership Down, Richard Adams
Narrator: A bunny
Anthropomorphized rabbits become refugees on an epic journey when their home is destroyed in this 1972 novel. The main bunny, Fiver, serves as the book's narrator.
Mister B. Gone, Clive Barker
Narrator: A demon
This narrator, a demon named Jakabok, took some notes from Lemony Snicket because he really doesn't want the reader to read his book. In fact, several times in the novel, he addresses the reader directly, telling them to burn the book and set him free.
The Book of Chameleons, José Eduardo Agualusa
Narrator: A gecko
Felix, a person with albinism who fabricates and sells personal histories, encounters a mysterious customer who begins to play games with his head. This magical realism novel, translated from Portuguese, is told by a man reincarnated as a gecko.
What's Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies
Narrator: An angel
The second book in Davies' Cornish Trilogy follows the life of Francis Cornish and is told by an angel, the Recording Angel, with additional intervention from a fate.
The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
Narrator: A murder victim
In this 2002 novel, a girl is raped and murdered in a small town in Pennsylvania. She narrates her family's struggle to cope from her isolated, personal heaven.
Jacob's Folly, Rebecca Miller
Narrator: An insect
The narrator literally turns into a fly on the wall in this 2013 novel from the daughter of Arthur Miller. Suddenly, young peddler Jacob Cerf isn't in 1800s Paris anymore — he's in 21st Century Long Island...and he's an insect.
The Famished Road, Ben Okri
Narrator: A spirit child
This Booker Prize-winning novel from Nigerian author Ben Okri centers around Azaro, a spirit child in the low-income area of an unknown African city. Azaro narrates as he interacts with — and is torn between — the real world and the spiritual world.
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
Narrator: A dog
Enzo is a loyal friend and supporter of Denny Swift, a race car driver. He narrates as Denny faces failure in trying to find success personally and professionally, but is frustrated that he can't seem to connect and help his friend. Enzo is a dog. What a good boy!
The Collector Collector, Tibor Fischer
Narrator: A bowl
Rosa, an art appraiser in London, comes into possession of a mysterious 5,000-year-old Sumerian bowl. With her magical ability to read the memories of inanimate objects, she accesses its immense library of information. The book's publisher, Penguin, boasts it is "unquestionably the finest novel ever narrated by a bowl."
Continental Drift, Russell Banks
Narrator: A voodoo spirit
Widely considered a literary classic, this 1986 novel focuses on a disillusioned New Hampshire repairman who moves his family to Florida for a better life. There, he encounters a Haitian refugee and her family who have traveled as far for the same reason. This portrait of globalization is conveyed by a Haitian voodoo spirit narrator.
The Final Solution, Michael Chabon
Narrator: A parrot
This 2004 novella may or may not be about Sherlock Holmes, at 89, solving a murder mystery and the search for a missing parrot. Fine, most of the novel is narrated by an omniscient third person but there's at least a chapter narrated by the parrot.
Tiny Deaths, Robert Shearman
Narrator: An ashtray
A woman reincarnated as an ashtray narrates a vignette called "Ashes to Ashes" in this short story collection. Perhaps a little too on the nose.
"The Direction of the Road," Ursula K. Le Guin
Narrator: A tree
A short (7-page) story, "The Direction of the Road" is narrated by an old oak tree that, over hundreds of years, observes the changes to the road it sits beside.