Janice's Reviews > Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
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Aug 09, 2012

really liked it

i have a sort of spotty history with margaret atwood -- trying to read certain books at the wrong time, reading books out of order, listening to suggestions from others that i shouldn't have listened to. murder in the dark is the only book of hers i read at the right time in my life, and i'd be worried about reading it again -- would it be soaked in that time? would it seem quaint, lopsidedly angry, unfairly embarrassing? would i judge it?

i mention these things for two reasons -- first, i was never that curious about this particular book, especially after listening to radio reviews of it when it first came out (as the follow-up to handmaid's tale, it wasn't particularly adored), and the cover always made it seem … fantasy-ish. but a short time ago i came across a copy in a 1 zl (about 33 cents) bin outside of a used bookstore here in poland. i didn't buy it right away, but let it sit there for almost two months, walking by it almost daily, watching dust build up on its spine, before finally giving in to what felt like fate. i try not to believe in fate, but with books it is true that sometimes they fall into your hands just when they are supposed to.

second, this book is heavily imbued with the idea of the older artist being judged, defined, boxed in by past work, detested, as well as adored, and, of course, misunderstood. that strain in the story seemed to speak to me about my own less-than-sterling attitude towards atwood's work. “it's ok,” it seemed to be winking at me, “i get it. relax.”

so, i bought the book a few weeks before getting on a plane home, and, since it was a small mass-market paperback, decided to bring it with me, rightly assuring myself that if it was awful, someone at the airport might be pleased to find it abandoned in a seat-back compartment.

once, while heading to my hometown from san francisco for an extended visit, i brought a book that i had found in the free box at a book store. i had picked it up simply because it was lightweight and i liked the name. arbitrary, yes. i waited until on the plane to start reading, and it turned out to be about a woman returning to her hometown for an extended visit. neat, i thought, until i got three pages in and the misogyny nearly drowned me. i left it in the seat-back and was "forced" to resort to writing in my journal and reading the in-flight magazine for the rest of the flight.

so that was in my head when, finally on board the airplane to my hometown, i started reading and found out that this book is about a woman returning to her hometown. heh. shit.

luckily, this book is a lot better than that forgotten other, since my flight was four times longer this time. primarily, it is about a woman putting the shards of her memory back together, the shards of herself, all the time waiting for the spectre of a childhood friend to appear before her. it is about little girls being cruel to each other. it is also about the aging artist, the perception of time and space, the effect of memory, place, and coldness. etcetera.

i got about 150 pages in before landing, when life flooded back and i was unable to continue. but i found myself, days later, on main street, trying not to look into faces, thinking of my own lost friend, seeing her face interposed everywhere. even more days later, drunk, talking with another friend around the corner from her parents' house, daring each other to go knock on their door, wondering if she would be there, sitting in the dark.

it's actually quite common for me to ruminate upon this particular lost friend when i am there, when i am with certain people, but this time the very air felt infused with her presence. or lack of it. i'm not sure.

so, yes, parallels and mirror-shapes, but i didn't see the full reflection until i got on the plane home and was finally able to continue reading. the character's lost friend started out so different from my own, but they ended the same. similarities, startling, so much that it was like knives in my heart to keep reading, but i couldn't stop.

but there wasn't just the one parallel, there were many that fractured out of the central story and made my head hurt, including, even, a description of memory and time described by my brother that mirrored that on the first page almost exactly:

“Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once.

… But I began to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid down on top of another. You don't look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.”

now, back home, i've been reading little by little, but i forced myself to finish the book this morning, because it felt like something hanging over my head.

structurally, the book's retelling of the past seems to speed up unpleasantly as it goes on; years are skipped over completely, and it seems like there are giant, gaping holes in what, up until then, has been very much chronological time. but perhaps that's due to the spreading out of formative events? the speeding up of time as we age? the overlaying of transparencies? if so, it felt like it could have been done more smoothly. otherwise, i enjoyed the book, despite the stabbing feeling.

would i have felt the same if i had found it at another time? i don't know, i've stopped asking questions like that. at least for now.

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Quotes Janice Liked

Margaret Atwood
“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”
Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye

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