In both The Familiar and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, dogs become primary elements of the novels that deeply affect the characters. In both novels, dogs function to provide a kind of reconciliation within the psyches of certain characters. In Disgrace, defrocked English professor David Lurie ends up working at an animal euthanasia clinic and is able to view his mistakes from a different perspective by identifying with the dogs he helps put down. In particular, he seems to take a liking to one partially crippled dog at the end of the novel that enjoys his banjo music. In the end, Lurie decides to end the dog’s suffering and prevent him from experiencing the same kind of disgrace and loss that Lurie has dealt with. In this way, Lurie is able to come to some kind of compromise within himself and accept the mistakes and drastic changes to his life that have occurred.
Similarly, in The Familiar, dogs provoke changes and empathy within people that is contrary to their inherent nature. Luther is a violent man deeply involved with the crime world, but cares for ex-fighting dogs as pets. Luther used to use the dogs for his own fights, but at some point felt the need to end the dog fighting and become a more benevolent figure in the dogs’ lives. Astair is also changed by the concept of meeting Xanther’s epilepsy dog. She tries to deny her excitement at owning a dog but is unable to do so, embarking (no pun intended) on a doggy shopping spree. Astair in this scene also seems very hopeful that the dog will help Xanther in ways she cannot herself.
First of all, the Narrative Construct idea fascinates me. While I don’t necessarily think it was the best name for them (for some reason they sound too explanatory for their actions, like naming a character who’s evil “bad guy.”) But, at the same time, I do not have a better name for them myself, so I cannot judge (maybe Architects? Wait…that’s been done before.) Regardless, it is interesting that in a fiction book we are constantly pointed to being reminded we are experiencing a fictional world, which is the exact thing professors tell you not to do in your own writing. I mean, it’s writing 101, “the suspension of disbelief,” was relayed to me over and over again in all of my writing classes. Yet here, MZD has drawn our attention to it time and again, the most powerful of which being set in the Narcon section. The Narcon is something that I think we can all conceptualize with decent aptitude. Their section has no page numbers, so they do not exist within the same realm as the story. They are written weirdly, like a play, taking them out of this genre (whatever this genre is.) They are formatted nothing like any other character, so they (if I’m reading the book correctly) don’t even share a similar universe or don’t occupy the same dimension as the other characters. They define their own rules, however, they date them back before their existence (whatever that means,) point being, regular fiction characters do not ever define their rules in a story. The author defines the rules for fictional characters to follow. It is interesting to keep in mind that, at least for me, the Narcons felt like they had more agency than the characters in the story. They felt like that because of the reasons I just mentioned.
But it’s not true! They have equitable if not less free will than the regular characters in the story. The Narcons must follow rules set by MZD and MZD has to make them follow the rules that they (Mark) has set for them, so their free will is really constricted to a few sentences (by comparison) to other characters. Narcons must be controlled, and if there is anything I know about characters being controlled, they tend to rebel.
I’ll flat out say it, I think the Narcons will turn out to be villains or something similar as the 27 volume series plays out. I would like to be proven wrong about this almost as much as I would like to be proven right. To me, it just seems like the natural order of things. In our class, it was mentioned by a classmate that Xanther is the only character that can hear the Narcons or at least the only character that we know can hear the Narcons. It was also mentioned that when Xanther hears the cat outside, it may be something more than just right-place-at-the-right-time action movie garbage. It could mean a little bit more.
After I heard the classmate (I believe it was you, Chelsea) my mind started to reel into analytic, speculation mode where I wanted to make connection upon connection (so, bear with me.) I think Narcon characters (overly oppressed characters, as mentioned above) want to enter to the fictional world like a reverse The Matrix situation. I think that cat may be Narcon incarnate as mentioned above. There’s also a little something something that cat does to Xanther that feels a little wacky and out of the realm of possibility for any other character in the story (soul stuff.) And, and! We don’t know (unless I missed it) what the cat’s name is. But what we do know is that TF-Narcon 3 has the font “Manticore.” Stay with me, I’m telling you, it’s worth it. Manticore is another name for “Man-Eater.” Trust me, I wish in my research that I had found there was some myth written thousands of years ago where the Manticore ate the kings ugly daughter named “Xanther,” but it didn’t exist, so I needed to speculate a bit more. In figurative terms, the cat may have eaten part of Xanther, it’s hard to say exactly but I’m going with it for the sake of my theory. The last thing we know is that no two characters share the same font in the story…except TF-Narcon 3 and some other thing called “G.C.” which is not, to my knowledge, defined or mentioned in Volume 1 at all. But it’s mentioned in the font? Pourquoi, monsieur?! To me, G.C. could be “good cat,” or “General Cathington,” or maybe it’s another one of Xanther’s misunderstood words.
Sometimes, when reading this book, I feel like I’m wearing a tinfoil hat. Anyway, thanks for following me down my rabbit hole. I really hope to see why that font is shared and, who knows? Maybe I am right.
From the start of the novel, it is evident that Xanther is quite a unique character. Although only 12 years old, she faces the unfortunate reality of having to endure epileptic episodes. As many have expressed on the forum, I find myself mainly concerned and attached to the Xanther sections. Her narrative allows the reader an entrance into the mind of not only a brilliant and yet still inherently naïve young girl, but also into the mind of someone prone to epilepsy. When Xanther is speaking, her rambling is extremely sporatic, causing me to pause and speed up at abnormal areas. Her frantic and spastic nature personifies her illness, and leaves me on edge every time I read through her sections. One particular scene in which I felt Xanther’s epilepsy was extremely personified was when she was testing Anwar’s game. The predator chasing her had not yet been defined, and Xanther was running through the game trying to escape its grasp. While reading this part, I kept thinking of her illness as this dark cloud that hovers, threatening her, causing her to try and out run and evade another epileptic episode.
The parenthetical information provided gives a direct window into Xanther’s subconscious, and grants her a unique voice that helps us to understand her character. Just like the jingjing and shnork sections carry diverse dialects, the Xanther sections, also have their own “language”. The way Danieleswki provides misspellings and pronunciations written phonetically instead of correctly, connects us to Xanther and the way her mind works (once again inspiring a sense of child-like innocence that connects to the reader). For example, whenever Anwar refers back to the time he read Xanther Homer’s “The Illiad”, Xanther remembers it as “I –lion”.
Anwar and Astair’s constant concern for the well being of Xanther, and their (understandable) paranoia as to when the next seizure might occur, gains the reader’s sympathy, which I also believe makes the Xanther sections more appealing and relatable. Xanther’s disease not only dominates over her life, but the lives of every member in her family. Her twin sisters seem to cling to one another out of a sense of neglect; Anwar and Astair burden themselves financially in order to attend to their daughter’s needs. Furthermore, when Anwar and Xanther return from Venice the first time, Astair sees Xanther all bloody and bruised, and immediately is frozen with fear. The shape of the text all blurring together, and her delirious state appeared to me as if she herself was having a seizure. She wasn’t able speak, and the way the words were blending together made it seem like she her vision was fading from this extreme and nightmareish situation. The same could be said for Anwar, when Xanther runs out of the car, he has a break down that is described similar to one of Xanther’s epileptic seizures.