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Cat's Eye Hardcover – January 17, 1989
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From Publishers Weekly
Herself the daughter of a Canadian forest entomologist, 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 femininea 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 (not quite as extreme as in the futuristic The Handmaid's Tale ). Emerging "the stronger" for her latecoming understanding of herself, Risley in the final pages rises above the ties that bound her, transcendently alive to the possibilities of "light, shining out in the midst of nothing." BOMC main selection.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
YA-- When Elaine Risley returns to her hometown, Toronto, for a retrospective show of her paintings, she finds more than critical acclaim. Local streets, long-gone landmarks, and elements in the paintings themselves trigger memories of her transient childhood traveling across Canada with her entomologist father; of adolescence marred by the cruel teasing of three friends; and of love affairs with her first art teacher and mentor, and with Jon, her first husband. In addition, Elaine is haunted by thoughts of her chief tormentor/best friend, Cordelia, whom she last saw years ago in a mental institution. Atwood's focus on the inner landscape of Elaine's youth and early adult years will appeal to older teenagers.
- Alice Conlon, University of Houston
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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Unlike some successful authors, Atwood never repeats her ideas from one book to the next but each novel is a new journey in which you're always fully immersed in the lives of the characters. Cat's Eye is no different in this respect and I was completely absorbed from start to end.
I particularly liked the depiction of the child's world as one in which you observe but can't quite intervene; how this moves into the teenage years when a quiet but cruel form of revenge is exacted in a precise and self-conscious way; the relationship with the narrator's brother is drawn through perfectly concise details, with just enough information provided but never too much.
This reflects another impressive feature of the novel in that there's nothing redundant in this story. Everything has a reason to be there and Atwood's skill at this level is immense. She's a brilliant writer and Cat's Eye is simply further proof of this. To say I stand in awe of her abilities and the impact her work makes on my life is a vast understatement. She is, quite simply, brilliant.
Despite Elaine's success in art and love, she has never come to terms with her relationship with Cordelia. "Cat's Eye" follows Elaine's search for Cordelia and the path that Elaine follows as she tries to understand their "friendship."
Elaine herself is a dark character, as she tends to have a solemn outlook on life and never seems to display happiness. Her pensive nature leads to interesting observations on the meaning of her art and how the avant garde work resulted from her early childhood experiences. Elaine's reflections also allow the reader to follow the interactions between Elaine's parents, brother, and herself; her introduction to religion; her first experiences with art; and her experiences with the opposite sex. While this book isn't easy to read, as Atwood writes in great detail and the pace of the book moves slowly, Elaine's reflections are interesting and the way she overcomes Cordelia's evil spell leads one to believe that good can prevail over evil.
Buildings that have disappeared, new businesses that have cropped up to replace them, and the memories attached to the once familiar landscape stand out in stark relief.
Elaine's childhood included a gypsy-like traveling about with her entomologist father, and the family camped out in tents. Then would come the months in an almost normal home, but without the normalcy she sees around her. Her fears, her insecurities, and the differences she can feel within must somehow convey themselves to the three girls who call themselves "friends." Is there any other reason for the torture she suffers at their hands?
But years later, only parts of this history remain in her memory, slowly returning in flashes.
The language and images of Cat's Eye were haunting, unforgettable, and reminiscent of some of my own childhood experiences. Who hasn't felt, at one time or another, the insecurity of not fitting in? Who hasn't been bullied or taunted? Reading Elaine's story, from the past to the present, brought these old memories back in full force.
Combined with the visual images of the art showing that depicts many of those childhood moments, the language in Atwood's story had me rereading parts because of the sheer magic of the words. Especially in one poignant scene, when Elaine is remembering a time from her first marriage, as she lies alone in the dark with a sick child while everything is falling apart around her:
"I crouch in the bedroom, in the dark, wrapped in Jon's old sleeping bag, listening to the wheezing sound of Sarah breathing and the whisper of sleet against the window. Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It's like the tide going out, revealing whatever's been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones. This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future. The ruin you've made."
Throughout this novel, visual images like these totally blew me away with their magnitude. I will not forget this book ever! Five stars.
Those pictures emit emotions, smells and plant the reader square into the story.