Gothic Reading Group: Carol Topolski’s Monster Love

Posted by Glennis Byron on October 08, 2008 in Blog tagged with

Gothic Reading Group: Monster Love by Carol Topolski
Report from Ada Lovelace

What is the twist of Carol Topolski’s Monster Love? The text presents numerous possibilities: is it the psychic connection between Brendan and Sherilyn, their double suicide, or is it simply identifying the figure of monstrosity within the text?

The first point of discussion was Brendan and Sherilyn’s mental connection. This connection initially manifests in the chapters that are written from their point of view; after the emphatic statement of ‘[w]e were soulmates. Better than mates – our souls fused’ (Monster Love: 55), the respective narrative voices of Brendan and Sherilyn merge; it then becomes increasingly difficult to decipher whose perspective we are actually experiencing. Brendan and Sherilyn each have ‘a secret space inside that exactly mirrored the space inside the other’ (55), and this  epitomises the extent and depth of their connection. It is a private shared space that is segregated and isolated from the rest of society, and the maintenance of their connection is manifested in their exclusion of Samantha: the undesirable aspects of society can be nullified when caged and controlled. Had Brendan and Sherilyn never met each other, they would ‘have carried on being the Living Dead probably’ (55). Initially, it does seem like a somewhat paradoxical statement; with Brendan and Sherilyn’s impassivity in public and their carefully constructed lifestyle, they do, however, make a considerable effort to integrate. Who are ‘the Living Dead’ (55) in the novel, and why would they be viewed this way? Is Topolski saying something about society and socially constructed figures of monstrosity?

Children also occupy a position of centrality in Monster Love; for characters such as Sherilyn’s father Ronald, and the neighbour Charlotte, children, in varying degrees of extremity, function as figures that allow different forms of gratitude to be fulfilled. Brendan and Sherilyn have each other, and therefore, they have no need for Samantha in that context. With the typical reference of ‘the alien had taken up residence’ (69), Sherilyn’s pregnancy is viewed as an invasion of the body. In Sherilyn’s case, her treatment of Samantha is quite possibly a product of Kristevan abjection; the constant assimilations to Sherilyn’s sister Ann Marie create a distinct point of correlation with Samantha. Throughout the novel, Brendan and Sherilyn repeatedly stress that they did not do wrong in their treatment of their daughter, and we can certainly see an outward manifestation of their respective childhoods in this attitude.

The construction of the novel itself was also an area that sparked a lot of discussion. Intertextuality is very prominent; there is a certainly a Frankensteinian revulsion, in conjunction with the nature/nurture debate, running through the novel – along with the Walpolian ‘sins of the father’ motif. It was also noted that Brendan’s past resembles something of a fairytale with his two ‘wicked’ stepmothers. I wonder: is this evoking of a Gothic past actually that effective?

Topolski also utilises a lot of different narrative forms; while the first half of the novel is comprised primarily of first person accounts, the second consists of a convoluted mishmash of third person, epistolary form, health reports, and prison documents. What has Topolski tried to achieve by doing this? While extensive access into Brendan and Sherilyn’s past has been granted, we are immersed in ‘objective’ opinions of them from neighbours, colleagues, and family members, which certainly contributes in heightening the sense of Other with the two characters.

Cages, boxes, and other concealing structures play an integral role in the narrative: the anti-Gothic house with its cage and corpse, Sherilyn’s make up, Ronald’s book of memoirs in the desk drawer of his office, and the numerous and limited objective impressions that mask the depths of Brendan’s character. But finally, it does seem like only fleeting glimpses of Samantha are obtained from the text as she is ultimately excluded from start to finish, but even her name becomes obscured by the numerous references to the cage; does she even manage to haunt the text?

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