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.
on 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
on July 26, 2000
I first read Cat's Eye upon it's publication in 1989. I was twelve years old and at that time particularly enjoyed the bits about her adolescence. However, I did not fully understand the painful magic, that is the real beauty in this tale, until the age of 20. This novel is a woman's struggle to deal the demons of her past, her intense love/hate relationship with the elusive Cordelia, and her own life as a woman relating to other women. Although the main charachter, Elaine, claims to " not understand girls" and is openly heterosexual, there is a searing lesbian melodrama that lurks within her obsession with Cordelia. This subtle element provides taut frustration to the story. The grisly description of life in Toronto in the 40's and 50's is also a wonderful, perhaps educational, bonus. Ms. Atwood's clever insights into the cruelty of children, the secret relationships of women, and the workings of universe-according to Stephen Hawking, Physicist and a blurry, unaccepting and somehow unbelievable God- are truly what makes this novel an unforgettable reading experience for anyone, male or female.
on August 22, 1998
With Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood handles deftly two complex situations--the relationships women have with each other, and the cyclical nature of abuse. Often in literature it seems as though women are only affected by their relationships with the men in their lives: fathers, brothers, lovers. Atwood vividly shows that a young girl can be profoundly affected by the friendships she forms with other girls. Elaine is changed and wounded deeply by her relationship with Cordelia; and also haunted by it. But Atwood offers no easy answers; Cordelia has also been wounded. As is the case with a lot of Atwood's work, this book is thick with descriptions of the smells and colors of food and furniture. This only pulls the reader more deeply into Elaine's world. Like a later book of Atwood's, The Robber Bride, (another book about the relationships among women), Cat's Eye is at times bleak, but never hopeless. Atwood looks at the reader straight in the eye, and doesn't flinch.
on February 13, 1998
This was the first book I read by Margaret Atwood, who I dare say is the finest writer alive. Cat's Eye is amazingly well-written...there are no flaws in Atwood's tale of Cordelia and Elaine. As with all Atwood books, the descriptions are exquisite, with a sharp eye to detail and realistic dialogue. I believe this book captures the essence of interactions between women. The message that little girls can be vicious to one another is so true, and these encounters as children can profoundly affect us all our lives. I believe Cat's Eye to be Atwood's best book. I have recommended it to every one of my friends (male and female), each of whom has diverse literary interests, and every one has thanked me for recommending such a wonderful book. No one I've referred it to has regretted reading it! Sure to be considered a classic in the next generation.
on April 27, 1998
I was introduced to this book through my High School novels teacher. We read this as a class and yes, males, also read it. I didn't say they enjoyed it, but I think it made them open ther eyes a little wider.
I do have to say that this was the best book I've ever read. I absolutley fell in love with and read it so fast, this is because it reads fast, but I also couldn't put it down. When I finished it I felt like Elaine was my friend and now that the book was over I had lost her forever. So I re-read the book.
The second time was even better! I picked up on more info and realized a few things I missed the first time with the symbols and allusions that Atwood uses.
I definately recommend this book to EVERYONE!! and also read more Atwood if you like this book,( her poetry is awesome too!)
on January 26, 2000
I feel old knowing that Cat's Eye is required reading for high school students and a bit jealous. This is my favorite novel. What cinches it for me is not the story "line," but the careful choice of words, and use of metaphor. Few get it so right. I am pleased as punch over and over reading what comes forth from Margaret Atwood's deft brain. Example: During one Thanksgiving dinner the young Elaine is watching and listening to an adult conversation concerning the turkey's ability to fly having been bred out of it's body in favour of easier containment issues and larger, jucier portions of meat. It occurs to Elaine that she is "eating lost flight." If that kind of realization doesn't appeal to you, as metaphor, you might not like this novel.