Monday, 8 August 2011

Holday Review - Cat's Eye

Yesterday I ordered a 'mini shake' and was given a terrifying column of ice cream the size of a hefty six-month-old baby. The cause of America's obesity epidemic is no longer a mystery to me.

Review again, this time of Cat's Eye, which is about Canada and feminism and marbles as repositories of memory. Or maybe it's just about little girls bullying each other like tiny sadists.

I really like Margaret Atwood, and I thought I was going to really like this book, so I was a bit surprised how up-and-down I felt about it in the end. Its premise, especially, pleased me – it’s all about a girl who finds other girls deeply strange and unsettling, which is something I can definitely relate to. Like Elaine, the main character, I suspect that somewhere along the way I missed a crucial lesson called ‘How To Be Female: Giggling, Squealing and Applying Makeup’. Because of this lack, whenever I go into a room with a large concentration of women I am at an instant disadvantage. Not only do I not have any idea how to proceed, but I am filled with a deep and constant suspicion that I may be wearing The Wrong Thing. It’s very upsetting, and the reason why many of my friends are men. 

While boys tend to say what they think (and generally don’t think very much, which is soothing), girls have schemes, and poor Elaine is unlucky enough, aged nine, to fall into the clutches of a group of three horrible little schemers. They make her life so much of a living hell that she blanks it out for years afterwards, and then spends the rest of her life going through a long and incomplete process of recovery. Cat's Eye, as a consequence, is rather oddly set out - all of the events that matter take place in the first few chapters, and then the rest of the story is taken up with characters reacting to them, over and over again. 

I do (as I’ve said already) like Margaret Atwood’s writing style and what's going on here is entertaining enough. However, I can’t get away from the fact that I have read this book before. Last time, it was called The Robber Bride. The time before that, it was Lady Oracle. I perfectly understand a bit of thematic recycling, from time to time, but this is just wholesale. Margaret Atwood’s books are populated by legions of little girls in snowsuits, who all go wallowing over ravines on the way to school looking for lurking rapists. Years later they have failed marriages and callous daughters, and this causes them to wander through Toronto (or Vancouver) alone, thinking about times past, tragedies unsolved and the large droopy bags under their eyes. It’s a miracle they don’t all run into each other.

It’s not only their experiences that are the same, either. Every single one of Margaret Atwood’s main characters seem to have the same bizarre, overblown reaction to adult female bodies. They imagine them as rather like very large and unmanageable Adipose, only bloodier and full of grimly leaking fluids. This is very alarming, and not at all like what goes on inside my own brain. I very much suspect, therefore, that it’s what goes on inside Margaret Atwood’s. I suppose everyone has to be allowed to use their own experiences in their writing, but all the same this much rehashing is patently cheating and I will not have it. 

Another thing that I had a problem with was far more to do with personal taste, but bothersome nonetheless. I’ve said before that I have difficulty reading about characters getting maimed, because I tend to imagine it happening to me, but I didn’t explain that this also extends to much smaller injuries and illnesses. I had to stop reading Midnight’s Children because Salman Rushdie spent pages and pages describing Saleem’s permanent nasal drip (which is probably meant to be an allegory for India’s weakened, ill state after Partition, but is unfortunately also non-allegorically DISGUSTING). After a while all I could see was this revolting child and his revolting nose, dripping all over me, and I felt sick and had to put down the book. 

I very nearly went the same way with Cat’s Eye. Elaine, driven quietly dotty by all the bullying, relieves her feelings every night by methodically peeling the skin off her feet, ‘down to the blood’. I don’t think I even took in the next few chapters, because all I could think was FEET FEET FEET YOUR POOR FEET THEY HAVE NO SKIN OH GOD YOUR POOR FEET. Thank god, Elaine finally got over her habit, and I got to finish reading in a state of comparative mental peace, but all the same I was distressed.

In the end, I did definitely enjoy Cat's Eye. I think I would have liked it a lot more, though, if it had felt like a new book, rather than something I've read several times before. I approve of what Margaret Atwood has to say, but I can't help feeling that she needs to learn some new words.

3.5 stars.

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