Manda's Reviews > Scribbling the Cat

Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller
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Nov 30, 09

bookshelves: read-in-2008
Read in January, 2008

I have had to take some time to think about this book, and I am still not sure how to approach it. Fuller’s previous book was an autobiographical relation of her childhood in Africa. This book is sort of autobiographical – relating her meeting in Africa of a man she calls K, and a little later the trip she and K took into Mozambique to cover the ground K covered as a soldier fighting in the Rhodesian army. But using the term autobiographical doesn’t quite fit the book, because although Fuller is the viewpoint through which we see K, and the other people they meet, she observes it all with so little comment that she almost disappears from the book. I see Fuller won the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage in 2006, and maybe that is why I had difficulty with the book – I was expecting an autobiography.

After meeting Bobo (Fuller’s childhood nickname), the wildly alive child of the first book, blaming herself for the death of her sister, and leaving nothing, no matter how personal, out of her account, I was keen to reacquaint myself with her, and found the coyness with which any details of her life were hidden to be puzzling and frustrating.

Fuller writes as if I should be fascinated with K – but frankly I was not. An African soldier is too remote from my life for me to be much interested in him on the basis of his anecdotes and stories. I would need a full autobiography, with other people’s opinions, or his story in his own words. I couldn’t get any real feeling about what I might think of the man should I meet him from Fuller’s book. Would he feel threatening, or protective?

The book is odd as well in that the trip that K and Fuller take seems to be unfocused. They drive to Mozambique, then bump into an old comrade of K’s and stay with him, and then drive back to Zambia. Whether there was ever more of a travel plan than that in place is never made clear.

I am left still thinking about Bobo: about why she refuses to take her children to Africa to visit their grandparents; about how when leaving her children in America so that she can visit her parents she instead spends time with K; about leaving her children for even longer to take this unfocused trip with K, a man she clearly admires physically, a man she is clearly fascinated by.

Oh and scribbling the cat? It means killing the cat, something curiosity apparently does.
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