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Cat's Eye [Paperback]

Margaret Atwood
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 16 1999
Cat's Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman—but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, Cat's Eye is a breathtaking novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knot of her life.

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Product Description

From Amazon

Cat's Eye is one of Margaret Atwood's most intriguing novels, a ruminative, symbol-laced, and deceptively loose book that encompasses many of the concerns of her earlier works, compounding them with a new awareness of aging and the curious vagaries of memory. Its premise is simple enough: Elaine Risley, a successful painter living on the West Coast, returns to Toronto, the scene of her childhood and artistic development, for a retrospective of her work at an independent feminist gallery. As Risley arrives in Toronto, she begins to examine her past in that city, from her early girlhood through to the final days of her first marriage. Risley's memories dominate the book; her exhibition is a light but important counterpoint to all that has gone before it.

In a sense, Cat's Eye is a feminist deconstruction of the artist's coming-of-age novel, but Risley's feminism is skeptical and detached. Her painful girlhood friendships haunt her through her middle age, and she has far more sympathy for men than she does for the women who have supported her career. As a result, Cat's Eye transcends orthodox feminism and rigorously examines troubling questions of gender, sexuality, and art from a wryly nonpartisan perspective. Fans of Atwood's more recent novels will love Cat's Eye, but it is a book that deserves the attention of her numerous detractors; perhaps it will encourage them to give her a second look. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Atwood's best books Dec 2 2001
I've read all of Margaret Atwood's books, except Alias Grace. I read my sister's copy of Cat's Eye when if first came out and remember thinking: "hmmm, kind of a rehash of themes from earlier books," specifically Lady Oracle, in which menacing ravines also figure. It seemed a so-so, traditional effort after the more obviously audacious Handmaid's Tale.
Recently, however, after 9/11, i went through a phase where I couldn't read, couldn't find a book that could hold my attention, lead me into its world, make me care.
Came upon Cat's Eye in a thrift store. Revelation: how much stronger and sure-stepped it seems to me the second time. Atwood's expert handling of the slow power shift between Elaine and Cordelia affected me more deeply this time, perhaps because I've lived longer now and have seen strong friends falter and others, once dismissed as "quiet," emerge as the real, fierce talents.
Don't hesitate. Read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ...a sustained poem. March 30 2003
Being male, I found that reading this book along with my female friend helped me to appreciate it more than I would have on my own. She commented, several times, that "language and observation make this book a sustained poem" and I agreed several times. Her perspective was needed and appreciated. It is definitely a book ABOUT women and FOR women, but us dudes can get something out of it too... because it is brilliantly written.
It is not only an "Atwood" but one of the better "Atwoods"!
The author has stated that Cat's Eye is "about how girlhood traumas continue into adult life" and that is it in a nutshell.
When the painter Elaine Risley returns to Toronto for a retrospective of her work, she is confronted with the memories of her childhood... mysteries to unravel, others to tie up and lay to rest. Elaine the child, had a temperament that allowed other girls to belittle and dominate her.
In a word, she was bullied.
And no one bullied her as much as Cordelia did.
When Elaine is brought back to the geography of her past, she finds that she has to come to terms with her feelings about Cordelia... this retrospective of her WORK turns into a retrospective of her LIFE.
Through flashbacks galore, and in writing that is spare and bleeding with cut-wrist exposure, Atwood leaves no part of Elaine's wounds unsalted.
Here is a question that I think the thoughtful reader will be asked to ponder:
Does "closure" mean annihilation/renunciation of memory, or acceptance/reconciliation of memory?
Or as my friend and I put it: Does Elaine still have her Cat's Eye with her when she returns to Vancouver?
This is not a plot-driven, but a personality or character driven book. Those who think that sound-bites on T.V.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Magical Marbles Don't Help Elaine Feb. 15 2002
"Cat's Eye" was a good example of the cruelties that little girls face during their childhood. Elaine, the main character, goes through the first eight years of her life acting like a boy, because she has a brother, and that is the only way she knows how to act. When her parents move to Toronto, she is faced with having to make friends that are girls. Elaine finds some cruel friends that criticize her every move. She is punished in obscene ways like being put down in a hole in the ground and covered with dirt for hours. Her "friends" make Elaine feel that they are "helping" her, and that it is a little girl's game that adults don't know about. When Elaine finds out that the adults were ok with it, she learns to hate. While playing a game of marble's, Elaine wins a cat's eye marble and she honestly believes that it will keep her safe from the girls. As you read the book, you will see how the girls in her childhood affected how she lived the rest of her life. The book was a little confusing, and hard to follow, since Atwood goes back and forth between the past and the present. Overall I would say that "Cat's Eye" isn't a GREAT book, but it isn't bad either.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Haunting Novel Oct. 21 2001
Other reviewers have used the word "haunting" to describe this novel, and I must agree. This book stayed with me long after I finished it, and compelled me to read even when I was too tired to do so. At first, I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not. Elaine, the protagonist, does not come across as a strong character; indeed, she is almost painfully introspective and introverted. Her inner life is rich, however, and her ruminations about her family and friends are quite perceptive. So I kept reading and allowed Elaine to reveal herself to me. As a girl, Elaine grows up in a family that is unusual, but loving and supportive of her. Her "friends" are another story. I don't think I've ever read anything that describes so well the cruelty that young girls are capable of. The social and psychological aspects of growing up are no better shown than here. However, this is the strongest part of the book. Elaine's adult life, colored as it was by her past, is not as richly portrayed, but she remains an interesting person. Her art is her catharsis, as personal and as difficult for an outsider to understand as is the artist herself. This book is an eerie coming-of-age tale, told with poetic beauty and sorrow.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best stories I've read
One of the best stories I've read. Although it was fiction it described some of the difficulties a young girl faces.and how they are resolved in later life.
Published 2 months ago by elizabeth bamford
5.0 out of 5 stars A most enjoyable read
For me, this was almost MY history growing up and living in Canada. All of the references were ones that I knew. It was very well written. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Duncan A Locke
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and Intriguing
I won't say anything that hasn't already been told by other reviews of this book, except that this is the novel which made me really love Atwood.
Published on Dec 31 2011 by David Sabine
4.0 out of 5 stars SAD
"If I were to see Cordelia again, what would I tell her about myself? The truth, or whatever would make me look good. Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2010 by Heather Negahdar
3.0 out of 5 stars so true...
I am a seventeen year old girl and this book really struck a chord within me. The things that the girls did to Elaine sent a chill down my spine but they didn't shock me. At all. Read more
Published on March 22 2005 by "nikki_bluesky"
4.0 out of 5 stars One to keep
This was a book that was loaned to me and I read it to kill some time. It has become one of my favorite books. I actually read that original copy to pieces. Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2002 by Lissa Glide
2.0 out of 5 stars Cat In the Cat's Eye
Reading Margaret Atwood -her work, the "cats eye" was emotive in a vituperative out pouring of all that wants to be seemingly human and ratiocinatively inhuman in torrents that... Read more
Published on Dec 8 2001 by Stephen Deed Locust
3.0 out of 5 stars Relationships
This was a wonderful read about the growing pains that most young women go through and the way that we learn to become functioning adults. Read more
Published on Nov. 29 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars A rich and compelling book
I enjoyed this book a lot. Although parts of it were quite disturbing, Atwood refrained from going too far. Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2001
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