(Original Review, 1981-03-28)
When Booth came up with the idea of the "unreliable narrator," he wasn't speaking to writers; he was reminding critics and teachers and readers in general of something every decent writer of fiction has always known: that a narrator is a voice, and a voice is a character, and is still a character - a created fictional person - whether it has a name or is just an apparently omniscient intermediary. The idea that this particular character must for some reason be an honest (much less an accurate) portrait of the author himself is just silly, but it's a silliness that a great many critics once allowed themselves to fall into. If Hammett's voice in Falcon is anything, it's purposeful and controlled, and he had to have worked very hard on it. The idea that that voice must also be Hammett or Heinlein themselves... well, I don't think fatuous is too strong a word. We have had very little of that kind of fatuous talk around here (thank goodness), but at times we – me, as much as anyone – have gone off in the opposite direction and assumed that because we can find something in Falcon Hammett or in Strange Heinlein, must have meant for it to matter more than the story itself. In other words, I know there’s a line but I don’t know exactly where to draw it - and I suppose that all I want from you is a reassurance that you agree that that line is lurking somewhere quite close by.
This is one of the books that made me appreciate Robert A. Heinlein even more. [2018 EDIT: And K. J. Parker in this day and age; if you want to know what it means to write sucessful "unreliable narrators" look no further.]
(By the way, the idea that there are male equivalents to femmes fatales is strangely familiar to me...)