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4.1 out of 5 stars
Cat's Eye
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 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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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. are too lengthy should probably stay away from it.
Cat's Eye would be a great Book Club selection because of the discussion and opinion that it is sure to stimulate. I'm going to rate it closer to five stars than four.
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on February 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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on October 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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on May 6, 2001
I enjoyed reading the first part of this part, about Elaine's childhood--and could very well relate to the cruely and power plays which do occur among young girls in our society. In fact, I found the chapters which returned to the present an interruption because they just seemed to ramble on. In the present, Elaine has returned to Toronto, her hometown, for an art show, and these chapters just go on and on as she wanders around town in a jogging suit--with her whining about her flab and middle age, checking out how the streets and ambiance has changed. One chapter could have sufficed.
The second part was rather disjointed and monotonous. Here Elaine is a young adult, and again, the story switches back and forth between that time and the present. It seems like Atwood suddenly felt she was in a hurry to finish this up. We get no feeling as to what went wrong in her marriage, why they were "throwing things" and what really was going on. It seems that she suddenly remembers she has a brother, and needs to do something about him, so she kills him off. It seemed totally contrived. She does the same thing with her parents. She hasn't meantioned them for a few hundred pages, and all of a sudden, they die off too, in a few pages. Her marriage to her second husband, and birth of a second child is covered in half a page. We get no feel as to how she evolved into this whining, depressing creature who's now wandering the streets of Toronto, moaning about her friendship to Cordelia.
Cordelia is another issue. Right at the beginning, it's hinted that there's something really exciting with this Cordelia issue, that some juicy issues are going to be uncovered. But after her initial torment, at age 9 or 10,there's nothing more to it. She becomes friends with her again in high school, Cordelia no longer has power over her. She runs into her once or twice after high school, and that's it. I was waiting for something more, why this obsession with her, but nothing. I gave this book 2 stars because I liked the first part about her childhood and some of her writing is very good, but all in all, a very depressing book that promises something but doesn't deliver. No plot, no "message" nothing to learn from it.
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on April 18, 2001
When push came to shove, Elaine shoved back at Cordelia the destructive projections that nearly klled her, and became the survivor of the headgame. Though they continually tussled over the next thirty-something years, out of each others' sight but earily never out of mind, Elaine again emerged the winner. I cheered for her each time she drew ahead, and glowed with approval as she leveled the playing field with her caution, compassion and forgiveness for Cordelia. What a friend she would have been to her tragically named counterpart, had Cordelia survived, and what grief Elaine bore at the realization that in some life battles there can be only one survivor. I myself am involved in religious education, and stumbled onto Atwood's book because of its frequent and affectionate mention in Sally Cunneen's book, In Search of Mary--the Woman and the Symbol (1996). Atwood shows that the idea of Mary as a saving mother figure is universally understood and embraced, especially so in the artistic world in which there are no limits to presentations or appellations of her. In Elaine's world, at the juncture when she rejects and is rejected by Grace's (another ironic name chice)family's reactionary style of Anglicanism, her enemy's enemy truly becomes her best friend, and so evolves her receptivity to Cathoic myth and symbol, Mary. Naturally Mary's antithesis is Mrs. Smeath; and I cheered for Elaine as she had her say through her art. I loved Elaine's wonderfully sensitive mother, and her quirky intellectual family, who without religion had acheived an inborn faith. I must confess I know nothing of marbles; so the title Cat's Eye spoke to me instead of an instictive, survivor's gift of night-sight, maybe even ancient Egptian astrologer's wisdom. In the cover picture, the robed figure is not simply holding the eye (truth), but seems in the act of placing it into our hands, our possession. Yes, Elaine had to realize the truth that she was not dysfunctional, only weak and naive, and like the elevated eye, needed to see the whole landscape of her life. What an excelent job Atwood did of illustrating a confused, criticized girl's capability for self-mutilation, a survivor's guilt becoming self-destructve. I would like Elaine to have shared more of her puberty experience and how it was handled in her family, and more about her first feelings of desire, as these were not mentioned. I agree, Amykrug, that ths is an anti-Yaya book, and was thinking that same thought as I read. Let every parent who reads this keep a cat's eye on their daughter and her friends! Lastly, I am impressed by the large number of reviews from far-off places like Malaysia, Argentina, I would like to have read more from the reader from Pakistan. (Please someone tell me what level A exams are).
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on December 27, 2000
This multi-layered book about how childhood experiences impact on the rest of life's journey, tackles a subject rarely explored. This subject is how truly horrifying children's emotional cruelty to one another can be. Sure there have been lots of stories about English boys beating each other up, and inflicting nasty physical tortures on one another, but this book is a rarity because it tells of how little girls, as young as nine, inflict emotional torture on each other. There is much more to this book however. Cat's eye explores the whole life journey of a woman after these miserable childhood experiences, and her preoccupation throughout life with the "friend" who was the ringleader of these children's "reindeer games". None of what I have written so far describes how magnificent the prose and poetry of this book is. It explores many other topics such as art, marriage and old age. It is very much a novel that is primarily of interest to women which may be why it didn't win the Booker Prize. It's my favorite book in the world, except perhaps for the Robber Bride also by Atwood.
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on November 16, 2000
Good books rarely give me great ideas just vague memories and gut feelings. Often I find it hard to articulate why the book I've just read has moved me as much as it did but I sense it's special power. I first read Margaret Atwood's poetry and was was much drawn to it for so many reasons but especially it's awarness of nature and the use of nature as a metaphore for struggles within human relationships especially the relationship with self. This closeness to nature is also evident in her novel 'Surfacing' which is a must for anyone interested in 'wilderness' Cat's Eye was recommended me by a woman friend as one of the author's better novels. It took me a long time to read (I'm a very slow reader). A year later, and while the detail is extremely fussy the gut-feelings are ever as strong. Despite the drabness and almost deprived lower middle-class backdrop of the Canada of the late 40's and 50's described in the book, Atwoods accounts of her heroine's interralionships are so real, so compelling and so precisely observed that you have to read on. This is not a light book by any means, but it's full of the wisdom of the survivor and Atwoods special brand of black humour; it holds points of reference and insight for all of us. My abiding image/feeling is of the cold water in the creek under the bridge and the the deep inner glow of Our Lady of Perpetual succour (note the cover in this edition). Get stuck in and feel the power of Atwood's writing!
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on October 20, 2000
Generally, I like to be analytical and logical when writing about literature. This is what we are taught at university, after all. This novel, however, left me so astounded that I couldn't even talk about it to friends. I finished it more than six months ago and, in a way, have been grappling with it ever since. Scenes from it seem to randomly invade my mind. Surely if a mere work of fiction can hold this power for such a length of time, it must be worth more than the sum of its parts.
The only point I really wish to make about it, is that there should be no gender discrimination in recommending this novel. Why anybody should feel that it is meant for a female audience is beyond me. Within the extremely rich layers of its narrative, the novel reveals essential truths about the way in which the process of growing up affects everybody. The fact that the main characters are women is simply not relevant beyond the fact that the narrator herself is a woman. Margaret Atwood is far too great a writer to have confined to such banalities.
"Haunting" is possibly the best way to describe this work and I am sure that every perceptive reader will be haunted by the way in which Elaine's experiences are eventually reflected in her art. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest novels I have ever read. But then again, every Atwood novel I read (and I have read them all) just confirms my opinion that she is one of the greatest writers of all time.
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on October 15, 2000
I figure that was something different to put as a title. Y'see, the first time I saw this book, I had already read "The Handmaid's Tale", which was slightly science-fictional (only slightly so) and to see this book, with the definitely science-fictional picture of a cloaked woman hovering over a bridge, flanked by bare trees, holding what seems to be a swirling ball of clouds. Mystical, fantastical, even. Alas, the book was about as realistic as they come and you know what . . . it rules (if such a term can be used for a book such as this). I wasn't sure what I would think about this, but I sure as heck enjoyed it and finished it even faster than I thought I would. Basically this book is about Elaine, a painter (hence the cover, it's one of her paintings, natch) who is back in Toronto for a retrospective of her work. Being back in the city of her youth dredges up a bunch of memories, most of them utterly unpleasant and most of them centering around a schoolfriend named Cordelia, a girl entirely difficult to classify. Elaine has grown up with her family, who aren't traditional folks and hanging around Cordelia and her two other friends enters her into a petty petty world of "improving yourself" and jealousy and mostly either making yourself feel miserable or having your friends do it for you. Or making others miserable. Some of the stuff that Cordelia masterminds, the subtle psychological manipulations, are downright disturbings and while this isn't a gory or even very intense book (it's a bit too distant for that), it's not for the faint of heart, or for those who don't wish to relive your childhood years. The plot weaves back and forth from her strolls around present day (for 1989) Toronto and her life before that, with the constant hellos and goodbyes of life. But it always comes back to Cordelia and Elaine has a fixation on the woman centering on obsession, looking for her around every corner, the woman never lurking too far from her thoughts. Will she run into her old friend? I'm not telling. But Elaine's life is meticulously detailed and her observations are cool and sometimes numb but always poetic, Atwood's writing has rarely been this beautiful, almost every page has an absolutely crystal clear description or poetic phrase. Elaine's life is moving and about as real as they come and while the book is more episodic in nature than plot driven, that's what you'd expect from a book like this. My only complaint is that it's a bit too distant and detached, but I have that gripe with most of Atwood's books, most of her narrators are that way, when she does it right, like here, it comes across as soaring and passionate, if she does it wrong, then it comes across more like dry analysis. Here her prose soars and her observations of women and the human condition are spot on. Not for everyone, grantd, but definitely one of the best books I've read in a long while, don't think of this as "woman's literature", regardless of your gender, pick it up and give it a shot. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
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