Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

The Power of the Unreliable Narrator: A Review of Memoirs of a Dilettante, Volume One

One of the things I struggle with when reading memoir is trusting the narrator. That may seem strange because the very nature of memoir implies that it is being written from the person who lived the experience, through their honest and perceptive eyes.

But let's be honest, we all view our lives in retrospect, and color our stories through the blurred lenses of memory. Whenever I read a memoir of times long past,--20, 30, 40 years--filled with explicit details of what people wore or ate any given day, I immediately wonder, how can you possibly remember that? I don't trust the narrator. Unless someone has kept anal, detailed diaries of every moment of their lives or has a photographic memory of everything they've seen, said, or done, I tend to doubt their ability to clearly tell the stories of times long past.

That is why it was such a delight and relief to read MEMOIRS OF A DILETTANTE, VOLUME ONE by Helena Hann-Basquiat. Helena explains it herself on the very first page of the book:
". . . Whether for the sake of narrative,or because the bitter pill of truth is always easier to swallow with  a candy coating of pretty lies, I may have blurred the lines between truth and fiction. Consider this a cowardly confession; I find it easier to tell certain autobiographical tales if they are dressed up in another set of clothes. . . ."
Perhaps this caveat will make some say, well then this is fiction not memoir, and avid memoir fans will turn away, but it would be their loss. Who hasn't thought about telling their own story as if they were a character in a book, rather than the complete reality of their lives? Who hasn't embellished their own experiences somewhat to make their lives seem more exciting and interesting, or perhaps a little less terrifying? By claiming her persona of an unreliable narrator (which she does several times throughout the book) it enabled me, as a reader, to feel the honesty of the stories even underneath their gloss and glamour. I actually trusted the voice more, because I was not expected to believe everything as 100% truth--and that made it a richer, more powerful read that I absolutely loved.


Alternatively playful, poetic, powerful and poignant, my favorite dilettante delights readers with pop culture references and an ability with language that reminded me of one of my favorite television shows (The Gilmore Girls) although I'm not sure Helena herself would approve of that. Still, for me it is high praise, as I always admire those who have the perfect turn of phrase and the ability to put our lives into perspective with the most astute and obscure pop culture references. Helena's book abounds with the music of the soundtrack of her life--a sound track that I would love to have. I always yearn for the perfect song to be playing in the background, the one that brings memories and stories to life in living color.

The dilettante does this and more, sharing a story that can't help but make you reflect on your own choices in life. I am looking forward to reading Memoirs of a Dilettante, Volume Two which is now available. Get your copy of both, it will be worth it!

Memoirs of a Dilettante 1

Memoirs of a Dilettante 2

While you are shopping for books, don't forget to pick up your copy of P.O.W.ER today!

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