Dec 12, 2008

Cat's Eye

by Margaret Atwood

This is the second time I've picked up this book, and this time I made it all the way through, but not without a struggle. I don't know if it's because I had extra distractions this week, and difficulty concentrating. Or because the subject of the book was a little too close to home, which made me want to step away from it and distance myself.

Cat's Eye is about woman who is an artist. The book opens with her preparations for a retrospective exhibition of her work in Toronto, Canada, where she grew up. As she revisits the town and notices its changes, Elaine reminisces about her childhood during the 1940's. Most of the book is about those memories, described through the opaque perspective of her younger self. Her parents were slightly eccentric, and they moved often when she was young. Elaine spent her early years in her brother's company, learning boys' games. When she began attending school, she found it hard to relate to the other girls. She longed to fit in, but found their play full of unexplained rules, their friendships conditional. It's very sad how she was constantly seeking their acceptance, struggling to understand her failure, internalizing her pain. The petty cruelty of her "best friends" haunted Elaine for her whole life, and she finally expressed it all in her paintings, which were then misunderstood and misinterpreted- by other artists, gallery reps and the public.

I suppose it was a buildup of many small things that made Elaine so miserable, but I was unable to feel most of it, even though I could closely relate to some aspects of her story. The quiet, dull mood and constant understatement of this book reminded me of others: Never Let Me Go and one by Chaim Potok called In The Beginning. The conclusion of Cat's Eye depressed me. I appreciated reading about her experience as an artist, but I lost respect for Elaine's character because of some choices she made.

At first I loved the picture on this book's jacket. Originally I found it so captivating I kept pausing to look at it while I read, eager to find out what it signified. When I finally came to the description of Elaine's painting which the cover shows, I was disappointed in the illustration. It's supposed to be a cat's eye marble, but the detail of that inner swirl of spun color is not there. Silly perhaps, but that really bugged me... I know a lot of readers really liked this novel, but I just don't at all. I guess because it's so realistic. Very effective, but not enjoyable for me to read, just depressing.

Rating: 2/5              462 pages, 1988

More opinions at:
Trish's Reading Nook


  1. I've not read this yet, although I've heard a lot of ravings on it. I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive from a fellow BookMoocher.

  2. I've heard a lot of great things about this one, too. Good to be prepared in case I don't agree when I get to it. :-)


  3. I agree with Lezlie, it's good to hear a different perspective so that I can adjust my expectations. I want to read it, but it probably won't be my next Atwood. I think I want to read Alias Grace next.

  4. Anonymous12/12/2008

    I am not a diehard Atwood fan, so I approached this book with some hesitance. A good deal of it I found tiresome, but I do think that the portion that covers Elaine's childhood is a real gem, perhaps because it accurately reflected the insidious nature of female friendships that I have known myself. Even at 25, I still find myself meeting Cordelias of my own... As Elaine ages, I lost a lot of sympathy for her, but the childhood years ring true, and for that I found the book worthwhile.

  5. The part about her childhood just felt so bleak to me. It does ring true, and that's why I found it depressing.

  6. This book was really haunting for me as well--like you said, very close to home. Girls are just plain mean--I think a lot of us can relate. I loved the cover as well.

  7. Hmm. I've only read a few of Atwood's novels and I'd love to dive in and read some more, but something keeps putting me off. I've heard good things about this one, and I think I own a copy but maybe I'll read one of the others first and then come back to this one.


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