Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reader's Diary #478- Margaret Atwood: Cat's Eye

Ah, crotchety old Atwood. I've missed her so. I mean that. This is my fifth novel of hers now and I realize how I've missed her cantankerousness.

On the back of my copy, the publishers state that Cat's Eye is "hilarious," among other things. Likewise, a reviewer from Cosmopolitan writes that it is "funny," among other things. I'll give them the other things. But hilarious? Funny? Can't we just embrace Atwood's bitterness? Let's not pretend she is something she is not.

Cat's Eye should always be read immediately following Anne of Green Gables. All that sugar and spice? It was indigestion waiting to happen. A nice dose of Atwood Aunt Acid will take care of that. Imagine if Anne didn't have Diana Barry, instead she just had Josie Pye. Make that three Josie Pyes, but make one even more mentally unstable than the others.

It's not often that I question gender differences. Men, women, both camps are pretty confusing if you ask me. But Atwood has forced me to think about them again. I now fear for my daughter.

I know a lot of people talk about the differences between female and male aggression. Often people will suggest that females are sneakier about it. More subtle. Whether that's true or not, I didn't realize what a difference that could make in the hands of a first class bully. I'd take being shoved into a locker any day over the things Cordelia did to Elaine.

To read Cat's Eye is to have an emotional experience. I found myself tense and angry and then relieved and then heartbroken and angry again.

Fortunately, a few annoyances saved me from getting too wrapped up-- I wasn't looking forward to counselling. I think I read somewhere about Atwood's pre-writing research, about making sure she had the events and the time just right, about knowing the cultural, political, economic, religious reference points in order to accurately consider how a character in that setting might feel and think. Too many times in Cat's Eye I thought Atwood was guilty of cataloguing these time stamps, as if she'd gone to a couple garage sales, dragged home as many 50s and 60s artifacts as she could and merely described each one without selection. Brownie box cameras. Spam. Don Messer radio broadcasts. She even describes the hairdos on nickels. Then, I guess it's better to have pop-culture Atwood than unaware and elitist Atwood.

Cat's Eye provides a reflective look back at the past but mocks the idea of nostalgia. I think this a good thing. Then, I'm also a cynic.


claire said...

Lol. A funny cynic you are. I'd forgotten most things about this book, but remember that anger-relief-heartbreak-anger feeling(s) you described. This was my first Atwood. Hm. Come to think of it, this is my only Atwood novel. The only Atwoods I've read since then were all short story collections and poetry. What of her works did you enjoy the most? I will reread Cat's Eye one day.

John Mutford said...

Claire: I've also read Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride and my two favourites, A Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. Personally, I think she was born to write dystopian fiction.

JoAnn said...

Great review, John! Cat's Eye is one of my favorite Atwood's (The Robber Bride is the other). I do believe there is a huge difference between male and female agression...males are so much more straight-forward! With three teen-age daughters, I see that things are much the same now as when I grew up. Thankfully we've never dealt with a 'Cordelia'.

Chrisbookarama said...

Girls play terrible mind games with each other. It starts early too.

Tonight I finished Alias Grace and I noticed that there was a lot of description of objects from the time period as well. It must be an Atwood thing.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

While I have enjoyed many of Atwood's books, I think I am beginning to enjoy her more as a personality than as a writer. She is so fierce! And she invented some crazy-assed digital pen.

Did I mention that she is fierce?

John Mutford said...

JoAnn: The Robber Bride, if I remember correctly, was a variation on the theme, wasn't it? I also seem to recall that that one did have some funny moments.

Chris: Alias Grace is one of those books that I often say I've read until I hear people talking about it and realize I've mixed it up with Blind Assassin or The Robber Bride. I wonder if we'll be more conscious of the catalogued objects in her other novels from now on.

Barbara: Oh the infamous pen. Basically a miniature Canadarm that reaches out to scratch Atwood's ego itch.

Yes, I believe you mentioned her fierceness. Have you ever seen her interview with CBC's Hana Gardner? Egad!

No, I'm more inclined to say I appreciate the author Atwood more than the personality.

Chrisbookarama said...

Ha! She was on The Hour a couple of weeks ago and as soon as she spoke I felt like a puppy hit with a newspaper. If she can do that to me while on TV, I can't imagine what it would be like to be in the same room with her.

JoAnn said...

Yes, Robber Bride and Cat's Eye do have very similar themes. That's probably why they seem hard to distinguish over time. The Blind Assassin will be my next Atwood.

Kate said...

Margaret Atwood - I either love her books, or I can't get past the first couple of pages. Unfortunately, Cat's Eye is one that I never finished. I should give it another try one of these days. I did (and do) love Handmaid's Tale; The Blind Assassin; Alias Grace; Oryx and Crake; and Wilderness Tips (short stories).

Wendy said...

Great review, John. I do think girls can be pretty vicious - I remember those grade school and jr. high school days! I loved Cat's Eye...also The Robber Bride. Well, I pretty much have loved every Atwood book I've read. The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake are terrific reads (and this from someone who in general does not like dystopian stuff).

Remi said...

I can't wait until her new one comes out. I find the older I get, the more I like her work.

John Mutford said...

Chris: I miss that interview. I assume George fared better than Hana?

JoAnn: While I enjoyed Blind Assassin, it was probably my least favourite of the five I mentioned above.

Kate: I've only read one short story of hers. I forget what it was called but it was about a travel agent who finds herself in a life raft when her plane goes down. I really enjoyed it.

Wendy: A lot of the other females here seem to agree with you that Margaret's depiction might be accurate. As a male, I don't feel like it's safe to comment on ;)

Remi: Any word on what her next will be?