Friday, June 10, 2016

Book review: CAT'S EYE by Margaret Atwood

Book summary from Publisher's Weekly: Atwood writes in an autobiographical vein about Elaine Risley, a middle-aged Canadian painter (and daughter of a forest entomologist) who is thrust into an extended reconsideration of her past while attending a retrospective show of her work in Toronto, a city she had fled years earlier in order to leave behind painful memories. Most pointedly, Risley reflects on the strangeness of her long relations with Cordelia, a childhood friend whose cruelties, dealt lavishly to Risley, helped hone her awareness of our inveterate appetite for destruction even while we love, and are understood as characteristically feminine betrayal of other women that masks a ferocious betrayal of oneself. Atwood's portrayal of the friendship gives the novel its fraught and mysterious center, but her critical assessment of Cordelia and the 'whole world of girls and their doings' also takes the measure of a coercive, conformist society.

Written from the first person like a memoir, Cat's Eye is the most memorable and hurting book I've read as of late. The narrator, Elaine, is a painter who is preparing for a gallery show of her whole life's work. She tells the story of her childhood, and the secret world of the art of bullying by girls. Centered around the cruel, charismatic character of Cordelia, Elaine is put down, bullied, hurt in a subtle way. Having been a girl who also experienced being the center of derision (and who also had a part in bullying others), its just so accurate. Boys fight with fists and curse words, girls by coldness and exclusion. It gives a chill to the heart that I still feel until now. At first, Elaine gives in but its just so delicious to read about her giving up the need for acceptance and standing up for herself. Which is sad, because I still wish that I was strong enough then to do that!

Cordelia appears later in Elaine's life in high school, and they are friends again, but Elaine also finds herself being cruel to her. Cordelia's memory and how she affects Elaine is central to the story.

My favorite character of the book though, is Stephen, Elaine's older brother who always had theories about time and the world.

"Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two planes at once. It was my brother Stephen who told me that..." so the book begins, and I could already tell that I will be hooked. Elaine tells the story of her childhood until the trials of being an adult: college, love affairs, children, divorce.

I was reading Paulo Coelho's The Pilgrimage before this and I didn't finish that book - honestly, I thought that it was trying hard to be spiritual and deep with abstract words. But Cat's Eye is nothing like that, it is detailed, and the words are beautiful and surreal in the same style of unreality of Elaine's paintings. I LOVE DETAILS. I like reading things where, zoom in to a very small thing, and its like a small enlightenment. Give me the smallest details of dandelion petals and dress buttons, I just like those kinds of descriptions.

Anyway. One more addition to FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME. And I'm so inarticulate in books I like I just fangirl. So yeah READ IT if you find it.

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