for Muse by Mary Novik
Book Club Guide prepared by Doubleday
1. In The Golden Legend, the book read aloud at mealtimes in the abbey, many female saints are tortured or mutilated (losing heads, breasts, eyes, or teeth) because they refuse to sacrifice their virginity. How do these stories resonate with Solange in Muse?
2. Born at Pentecost, Solange speaks in tongues and has dramatic visions. What do you think her visions mean? Sometimes she has doubts that they are authentic. What do you think?
3. Images recur throughout the novel, for instance eels, insects, rivers, bad weather, planetary systems. What did you notice about floods and lightning? Discuss the moon and sun as powerful forces in Solange’s world.
4. When she meets Francesco, Solange tells him, “I was trained in an abbey and came here to earn a living with my pen, just as you did” (p. 95). Does she triumph over the odds of a woman succeeding in Avignon, a city of men? Is she victimized or empowered by her experience?
5. Discuss the novel’s title. Who is the muse? Could there be more than one? Does Francesco have a legitimate need for two women in his life?
6. Why does Solange continue to love Francesco despite his broken vows and apparent selfishness? Does he deserve her lifelong devotion?
7. Solange takes lovers and earns notoriety as a prophet and courtesan in local folklore. Would you say she is made more or less powerful by her sexual alliances? Why does she behave in this fashion?
8. In the portrayal of the Avignon popes, their lavish life style, and their sometimes sinful behaviour, do you believe that Novik was drawing more on history or on her imagination? Can you think of any echoes in the church today? You might like to visit the author’s website at www.marynovik.com to gain insight into her writing process.
9. When Solange is attacked by the smiths who want to collect pieces of her clothes and body to ward off the plague, she is rescued by the pope’s guards. “To my shame, I shrank from my dark roots and became, once more, a creature of the light” (p. 265). What does she mean by this?
10. Discuss the relationships between mothers and daughters throughout the book. Do the relationships between women come full circle at the end of the novel?
11. Solange is taught from childhood that lost body parts will be reunited with their owners after death. How does this theme evolve, from the bracelet of hair around her mother’s wrist to the ring Solange discovers at the end of the novel?
12. At the end of Muse, Solange is still seeking to get revenge on her rival, Laura. Why does she dislike Laura so much? Do you think she is responsible for Laura’s death?
13. When Solange fantasizes about her reunion with Francesco after death, she imagines “a laurel wreath clinging victoriously to my brow as I embraced him in the ecstasy of our resurrected flesh” (p. 307). Does she just crave his love, or does she wish to share his fame as well?
14. Discuss the letter that Solange writes to her daughters at the novel’s close, in which she begs her children to protect her life story against false biographers. What does she hope to accomplish by confessing her own sins? Do you think she will succeed?
15. Would you describe Solange as a woman hero, or an anti-hero? What do you think of the choices she has made in life? Did elemental forces or destiny play a role in the unfolding of events?
16. If you read the novel a second time, knowing the ending, would you see Solange’s journey in a new light and interpret it differently?