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The Familiar, Volume 3 Reader’s Guide

By Mark Z. Danielewski

The Familiar, Volume 3 by Mark Z. Danielewski


The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s conversation of The Familiar, Volume 3: Honeysuckle & Pain, Mark Z. Danielewski’s absorbing new novel, which continues to trace the paths of nine diverse characters. Feel free to wander in your discussions as you share different perspectives and explore the increasing interconnections within this vast world.


Released for the summer from the perils of school, Xanther and her nameless cat are settling into a comfortable routine at home. The rest of the Ibrahim family, however, is growing more and more unsettled. Astair fears their stretched finances are already at a breaking point. Not even a visit from an old friend can mitigate Anwar’s feeling that he’s failing to support those he loves and that even worse things are to come. The twins, Freya and Shasti, sense something too and blame their older sister. Honeysuckles haunt the air and smell of offerings . . . Meanwhile, Cas and Bobby’s survival may depend on facing the one person they fear most. And on the other side of the world, Jingjing and Tian Li set out to find what was lost: their missing cat. With the spectacular visuals and vibrant wordplay that are his trademark, The Familiar, Volume 3 is a beautiful and singular reading experience that could come only from the imagination of Mark Z. Danielewski.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. What role does honeysuckle play in this volume? Why is it associated or coupled with pain in the title? 

2. Shnorhk and Mnatsagan have an intriguing conversation about culture and language (pp. 361–368). How does diversity impact and expand the interconnectivity of the world of The Familiar? Do you anticipate that certain characters will clash in later volumes as a result of this?

3. Is Özgür correct that “Justice is a tiger herself” (p. 425)?

4. The “Hyperion” chapter (p. 511) might be considered an allegory of sewage. What is the lesson Dov tries to teach Xanther during their visit to the sewage treatment plant (p. 521), and how does she reinterpret it at the end of the volume (p. 821)? 

5. Programming languages, typography, and emoji are all techniques or processes of encoding, one of the “ratings” for this volume (p. 33). What is the meaning of encoding and how does it play out here? What is the connection to translation or to the Narcons’ narrative interruptions?

6. In this volume, we learn a little more about the mysterious “Arshalous” in Shnorhk’s chapters. He lives for her—“turns for her. Patil and her both. Every day. Every hour. Every breath” (p. 239)—and the memory of her is evidently a source of great pain (p. 505). Why do you think her name is crossed out in Shnorhk’s thoughts? 

7. The search for a name for Xanther’s cat invites reconsideration of the significance of the names of all of the characters, including the many animals referred to throughout the volume. Which is your favorite name on p. 255? Why does naming as an act have such significance? In what way do some of the names, e.g. Mefisto, seem more complex after reading this volume? 

8. Lares and Penates—the expensive glass wolves Xiomara destroys—are named for two groups of Roman household gods (p. 126). The Lares watched over and protected families, while the Penates were responsible for providing families with enough to eat. What is the significance of these allusions, given that they’re now broken? Narcons also oversee all that occurs; are they akin to household gods?

9. Xanther remembers Doctor Potts’ advice (p. 254): “There’s an old Tibetan saying: ‘Take care of the minutes and the years will take care of themselves.’” In which ways are the narratives in The Familiar focused on small increments of time (minutes, seconds, or less)? When do the narratives focus on macro-scale time?

10. Isandòrno is a man of few words, and one gets the feeling that he has true respect for very few people. What is it about Teyo’s son, Jordi, that impresses Isandòrno and makes him think of Jordi as a “sleeping warrior” (p. 310)?

11. TF-Narcon 27 displays “ERROR” messages in a number of places (pp. 322, 453, 489, 837). What do you think causes these errors? What do these errors reveal about what Narcons are and are not permitted to do?

12. In this volume, multiple characters encounter kids cosplaying Xanther, and they seem to know exactly what they’re doing—at the very least, they know Astair and the cat (pp. 594–595). Do you think The Familiar exists inside The Familiar, or has Xanther’s story gone viral in some other way?

13. In “hungry ghost,” someone tells Jingjing that the cat is his (p. 634). Do you think this is real? If it is a hallucination, does this mean Jingjing wants the cat to be his?

14. We have finally met Cas’ and Mefisto’s villain, Recluse. Discuss his motives for trying to track them all down. What might he gain if he sees Clip #6 (pp. 199, 493, 676, 703, 707, 716)?

15. It has become increasingly obvious that Enzio’s Cataplysts have an eerie resemblance to the Orbs. If Anwar had thought to mention Enzio and those projects to Mefisto (p. 684), what might Mefisto have said? Do you think Enzio has any connection to Recluse now that Mefisto has stopped working with them? With this in mind, do you think Galvadyne’s job offer is authentic (p. 691)? Why or why not?

16. What do you make of Xanther’s surprising game skills? What is the relationship between her seizures and game play (p. 550)? How would you describe her physical, cognitive, and emotional states when she fully immerses herself in play?

17. Stones: a keyword for this volume and one of its primary motifs. What does it mean for Xanther to “flick” or “turn” stones? What is the relationship between stones and game controllers? Between stones and Go? How might we think about Xanther’s stones in relation to Jingjing’s encounter with Madam Tembam (pp. 454–458), or to Shnorhk’s maneki neko and Oz’s stone cat statue (p. 416)? How do they relate to the stones we saw in Volume 2 (TFv2, e.g. pp. 65, 244, 370, 572)?

18. Discuss the books on the shelves in Cas and Bobby’s home (p. 712). What do we learn about them from these titles?

19. In the chapter “Virgil,” we learn that a murderer known as Android (TFv1, p. 168) was found dead, his body ripped apart. How might this connect to the red swirling shapes we saw when Xanther ran out into the street in Volume 2 (TFv2, pp. 793–809)?

20. Jingjing’s world seems to be more and more consumed by “smoke.” Do you feel that his altered state is now driving and determining his actions, or is it just amplifying his focus when it comes to what he’s “owed” (p. 633)?

21. In “dead-end cats,” Xanther asks what world is made when two creatures’ “bubbles” merge (p. 323). Do you think Xanther and her unnamable cat have merged? What does this mean for Xanther’s world?

22. The word “mirage” is linked to such referents as a car (p. 237), an emotional state (p. 406), and a dream state (p. 484). What is the significance of this word, especially within this volume?

23. The Narcons ultimately make it clear that Luther’s path is a hard one (p. 741). Do you think he could turn his life around, or is he too far gone?

24. How does Xanther’s trip to the private zoo (The Animal Kingdom) resonate with her trip to the kill facility in Volume 2 (TFv2, pp. 334–377)? How do you think Volume 4 will begin after Xanther’s encounter with Satya?

25. Now that you’ve read about Oria, Marvin, and Lexi, respectively, at the end of each volume of The Familiar thus far, what do you think is the common thread that ties these animals together?

About this Author

MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI was born in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles.

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