“Grieving the dead, I’ve learned, is also about grieving your lost self, the self that only existed in relation to that person. When they die, those versions of you die as well,” (Gartner 264).
After the death of her beloved cousin Zoltan, strangers begin confessing things to Lucy. She doesn’t ask them to, doesn’t pry, but people come to her anyways eager to unload the weight of their sins onto Lucy, which Lucy eagerly takes in. But the confessions start to have patterns, some seem connected and familiar to her life, but how can that be?
The Beguiling is an odd book. I was drawn in by the cover, drawn in more when discovering that Lucy is a lapsed Catholic like myself (I’m a sucker for books critiquing religion, whether in a vague or obvious way), and then hearing the premise that Lucy becomes a sort of confessional booth to strangers reeled me in. Finding out that the book is written by and set predominantly in Canada with reference to Dawson City were unexpected perks. And Gartner’s novel is beautifully and smartly written, chock-full of clever biblical references as well as nods to other media as well as darkly funny. I was always eager when a new confessant came forward and discovering what sin they would be unloading onto Lucy as well as glimpses into Lucy’s own life.
That being said, I didn’t fully understand The Beguiling. Perhaps I myself was beguiled by the writing, by the story, by trying to put the pieces of it all together that it went over my head. I know something happened in the last few pages, a revelation of sorts that I couldn’t see clearly. As some reviewers have mentioned, this book in many ways is set up as a sort of series of short stories encased in a novel, which isn’t a bad thing but with the jumping around between confessant to Lucy and trying to figure out what year we’re in now (which was probably the point) it did make it hard to follow.
But The Beguiling is a book I enjoyed reading despite the confusion, one I actually hope to read again in the future and with more focus. It’s an excellently written novel and I’m surprised I haven’t heard about it more in the CanLit circles because this is a book that deserves to be talked about!
Publication: September 22nd 2020
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Pages: 288 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Canadian, Contemporary, Literary Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤.75
Lucy is a lapsed-Catholic whose adolescent pretensions to sainthood are unexpectedly revived.
It all starts when her cousin Zoltan, in hospital following a bizarre incident at a party, offers her a disturbing deathbed confession. Lucy’s grief takes an unusual turn: Zoltan’s death appears to have turned her into a magnet for the unshriven. Lucy is transformed into a self-described “flesh-and-blood Wailing Wall” as strangers unburden themselves to her. She becomes addicted to the dark stories, finds herself jonesing for hit after hit.
As the confessions pile up, Lucy begins to wonder if Zoltan’s death was as random and unscripted as it appeared. She clutches at alarming synchronicities, seeks meaning in the stories of strangers. Why do the stories seem connected to each other or eerily echo elements of her life? Could it be because Lucy has her own transgressions to acknowledge? And then there is that stubbornly resurfacing past, like a tell-tale ribbon of hair snagged on a fish hook.