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In writing terms, an unreliable narrator is an untrustworthy character who tends to mislead. They withhold information, lie, and misrepresent the truth, usually in order to slap the reader about the face with a big wet fish of a twist. Famous examples are Pi Patel in the Life of Pi and the unnamed main character in Fight Club.

But, in a way, we’re all unreliable narrators.

Two close family members are suffering from health issues. Without sharing details, in the case of one, these issues have occasionally manifested themselves in some outlandish warping of reality, resulting in accusations of complicated plots that could have been lifted straight from a Hitchcock movie. Some of these are so crazy we have to laugh otherwise we would go, well, crazy. There have been semi-serious discussions about how valuable a camera would be to help prove undisputedly what was reality and what wasn’t. Basically, a real-life version of VAR. For the uninitiated, VAR is the video assistant referee used in football games.

Come to think of it, VAR could come in useful in everyday life as well. I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times Andy and I have disputed who said what and when, one of us announcing, ‘I wish we had recorded this, then we’d see who was right.’

In the Oscar-winning film, Anatomy of a Fall, one character does just that, records an argument that is later used as evidence in court. As anyone who’s watched the film knows, having a form of VAR to fall back on doesn’t ultimately help the protagonists. Even knowing this, there are times when I wish I could utilise it.

Few people in real life are deliberately unreliable narrators. We all view things from different angles – our own. Another example of this occurred following a visit to the second family member with health issues. In situations involving the wellbeing of someone close, emotions run high, as do stress levels. People don’t tend to function at their best in these conditions, and things can be misheard, misconstrued or, as was the case here, not heard at all. I learned with surprise during the ‘anatomy of a family meeting’ that a piece of information which was hugely important, especially in relation to the chaotic events that followed, wasn’t heard by some other family members present. I would stand up in court and swear this vital information was shared, but others would stand up in court and swear it wasn’t.

Some of the people involved were unreliable narrators, but who is to say for definite who the unreliable narrators were? If we’d had VAR, we’d know for sure.

Or would we?

In football, VAR decisions have proved almost as controversial as referees’ decisions in pre-VAR days. Even having access to immediate video footage of events, people disagree about what did or did not happen. And that’s because of a little thing called interpretation.

People have different debating techniques (that’s a diplomatic way of saying arguing). Andy reaches a point where she’s had enough of ‘analysing,’ whereas I never get tired of dissecting the evidence, as if I were a prosecutor in a court of law:- ‘I put it to you, madam, that at 19:35 on the 16th of March, as you reached for the sofrito pan, your sleeve brushed the cooker knob, moving it, and accidentally increasing the heat under the paella pan so that it boiled dry and completely ruined the evening meal.’

VAR might show this to be true. But it also may equally well show me standing beside said cooker, one hand on hip, elbow out, forcing Andy to squeeze past in such a way that it was difficult to avoid knocking the knob, so to speak.

It’s all about interpretation, so even if we were freakish enough to record every single discussion, it wouldn’t necessarily solve the ‘I said, then you said, then they said…’ disputes.

We don’t have VAR for domestic differences of opinions. But with video doorbells, mobile phones, and cameras hooked up everywhere, even on pet feeders, there’s probably someone, somewhere at this very moment saying, ‘Alexa, replay footage of the curious incident of the…’

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Jack Montgomery

Jack is an author, travel writer, photographer, and a Slow Travel consultant who has been writing professionally for twenty years. Follow Jack on Facebook for information about his writing, travel tips, photographs, and tales of life in a tiny rural village in Somerset.

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Some of the items on this site won’t be to everyone’s liking, I get that. Basically this is my place, my wee studio to mess around in – experimenting with words and thoughts. I’ll be chuffed if you enjoy it, but if you don’t, c’est la vie. As a friend used to tell me “it would be a boring life if we all thought the same.”

Jack Montgomery
A wine press,
On a farm at the end of the dirt track,
The Setúbal Peninsula,