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Review: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

The Bell Jar meets Mean Girls.
This was a slow burn of a book. There are so many undercurrents and big issues smashed into small settings and occasions. As a matter of fact, one tiny occasion really stuck with me: Cordelia's family dinners and how much they differ when it is only her, her mother, and her older sisters versus the evenings when their father joins them. The event is so small it only garners a few sentences but so much is packed into the clothing, manners, and expectations.

The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite books of all time, so it's no wonder that I would dive further into the Atwood canon after achieving that high (low?). I've found that I absolutely LOVE the Maddadam trilogy but was deeply disappointed with The Blind Assassin. Moving on to Cat's Eye, I found a middle ground...or building stone. Long before the gift of Tina Fey's Mean Girls, Atwood put her finger on the festering blister of female bullying--it starts slow, embeds itself, and never lets up. Only when women step outside of the situation do they realize the contained chaos in which they were/are living in.

Published in 1988, Cat's Eye embodies the rise, fall, and continuance of female "friendships". The juxtaposition Atwood provides with her main character, Elaine Risley's youth and her subsequent artistic achievement are abrasive, hurtful, and vengeful. As a controversial painter who returns to Toronto for a retrospective of her art, Elaine is overwhelmed with emotions and images of her past, including "a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal." During the course of the novel, which almost reads like a diary, Elaine "must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, and artist, and woman - but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories."

A definite read for anyone interested in mid-century suburban feminism, female-to-female bullying, women entering the art world, and a recommended read for any Atwood fan.

1 comment

Judy Krueger said...

Cat's Eye was the first book I read by Margaret Atwood. I read it in 1996 and knew next to nothing about the author at the time. I was stunned by how much buried childhood emotion she drew out of me. I have since read every single one of her novels and she has become one of my top three favorite authors. Even though you had some quibbles, it was great to read about your experience of reading it. I have not had a discussion about this book with anyone before.