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
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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.
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