64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2001
If you only read one Margaret Attwood book this should be it. This was the first of her novels that I read and I have been gripped by her work ever since. Cat's Eye is, on the surface, a first person documentary of a young girl's progression from childhood to her life as a moderately successful artist of a certain age.
Attwood's use of stream of consciousness may confuse an unwary reader. However don't be put off. Attwood reminds us from the outset that time is not a line but more like a pool of water into which our memory dips a hand from time to time. In fact this method of writing is aptly suited to Elaine's journey through the infulences and relationships which explain the woman she has become.
It would be impossible for anyone to read this book as a story. It is a series of memories. The backdrop to our journey is set in the present where Elaine, our navigator, is being 'honoured' with a retrospective of her artwork in a small gallery Toronto, the city of her upbringing. By way of a parallel to this Attwood gives us glimpses of Elaine's life in retrospective showing how each of the pivitol moments in her life have shaped her ability to interact with her environment and with those around herm, both men and women. To emphasise this point Attwood has dispensed with the uniform chapter titles and numbers. Instead there are numerous sporadic switches between the past and present, each of which is segmented under what could be the titles of paintings/artwork, the pictures of which we are encouraged to form in our own minds as we experience the world through Elaine's senses.
In particular Elaine centres on the influence of Cordelia her childhood 'friend' around whom her early attempts at stability were centred. Before coming to Toronto, the world Elaine knew was that of a wanderer, travelling from place to place with her Professor father, a scientist. The permanent life in Toronto introduces her to the lives and relationships of other girls her age and so she cements herself, nervously at first, into a group of girls. Then she is changed forever by the arrival of another girl, Cordelia who haunts her throughout the book. Although by defenition, Cordelia is not a physical bully, she exerts an influence on Elaine which will hold her forever. It is this relationship with Cordelia which has left her emotionally stunted until now as she grapples to lay her emotional ghosts to rest.
The subtlety of Attwood's expression is evident from the beginning. In particular the representation of Elaine as an artist and Attwood's manipulation of Elaine's view of the world are manifest in the quality description of Elaine's world. We are smothered by the colours, textures and feelings which surround Elaine, both in the physical world and in her own mind. But Attwood manages never to overstress the technique. Above all this book is about subtlety, what goes on behind the physical in Elaine's one true and constant world, her own mind.
This book is not exciting, never a whirlwind of action. But it is an enthrawling journey on which the reader is compelled to follow. It will bring back memories you never thought you had and remind you that it does not matter how we may change in our adult lives, it is our past which pursues us and which we ultimately must learn to control else it will ultimately consume us.
A thoroughly enjoyable work.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 1 September 2007
`Cat's Eye' is the story of Elaine Risley, a painter who returns to Toronto for a retrospect of her work and finds herself flooded by memories of her past. Probably the first half of the novel focuses on Elaine's childhood, especially the complex relationship with her `friend' Cordelia, while roughly the second half shows her growing up and coping with the difficulties of more adult relationships.
`Cat's Eye' captures the pieces of childhood, and especially the complicated power games that girls play with each other, absolutely perfectly. While reading moments of my own past came back to be, rather like the older Elaine holding her marble and suddenly remembering a past she'd forgotten (if not put behind her) such a long time ago. Never before have I read a book that truly illustrates how subtle and nasty little girls really can be while in a believable and realistic context.
If I have a criticism it's that I enjoyed the early parts of the novel far more than the later when Elaine was older, however, being eighteen, it may only be that I was able to identify with the earlier incidents far more than troubled marriages and in twenty years I may feel differently.
Overall a hugely enjoyable book that really seems to chart how women act towards one another. Perhaps it wouldn't mean quite so much to men but I think many women would recognise moments and behaviour in this interesting and absorbing novel.
I've read a number of Margaret Atwood novels and short stories and while the writing possibly isn't as well done as `The Handmaid's Tale' it's still up there with the best. A must if you're a fan, probably a good place to start if it's your first.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2001
I had to read this novel for my A-levels at school, but since we had already done 'The Handmaids Tale' (another winner), I wasn't apprehensive in the slightest.
The emotions it stirs up in you are amazing, and if you study the language and way it's written, as I had to, then you begin to see it's different levels.
This is the story of Elaine, the girl who is bullied by her 'friend' Cordelia. I found myself getting totally immersed in this story and making myself read faster just so I could find out how Elaine prevails. She's a strong little character, but with flaws that allow the bullying to continue. Once she has ridden herself of it, we begin to see how it effects her life and how she deals with it years after it has ended.
I think I had a week to read this book, and it only took me 2 days. Every spare second was taken up with it.
I admire Margaret Atwood's writing a great deal - there's an honesty and a sense of poetry in the tales she tells, and she has a gift of sweeping you up in them. This novel is definately one of her best, and worth keeping on the bookshelf to read over and over.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2001
This is one of the most absorbing books I have ever read. As a (young) adult, it stirred up many memories and emotions that I had long buried of how difficult growing up can be. It is not a particularly easy book to begin, but once I did, the story gradually sucked me in to the point where I could think or do nothing else until I had finished the story. The book is an emotional marathon and at times is a little harrowing. When I finished I felt as if I had just been through an intensive psychotherapy session! You MUST read this book.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 19 March 2012
This is an astonishing book, at a number of different levels. The surface story is of Elaine, a middle-aged artist who returns to her childhood home of Toronto for an exhibition of her work, which activates all sorts of long-buried feelings and memories, but as a summary, that doesn't even come close to capturing the essence. The approach is first person present tense ("I stand in the snow...", "I walk up the street...") for describing both present and past, which sounds confusing, but actually the switches in time cause only the slightest joggle before the mind adjusts. Using the same style for all eras of Elaine's life also works brilliantly to underscore one of Atwood's major points - that "Time is not a line, but a dimension, like the dimensions in space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backwards in time and exist in two places at once."
The prose is literate without ever being flowery or overblown, and Atwood has an uncanny skill for choosing exactly the perfect word every time. Whatever a reader may think of the story or themes, the book is a delight to read purely for the precision of the writing. Atwood writes with a painter's eye. "We wear long wool coats with tie belts, the collars turned up to look like those of movie stars, and rubber boots with the tops folded down and men's work socks inside. In our pockets are stuffed the kerchiefs our mothers make us wear but that we take off as soon as we're out of their sight. We scorn head-coverings. Our mouths are tough, crayon-red, shiny as nails. We think we are friends." And, like a painter, she carefully builds a picture of Elaine's life, brush-stroke by brush-stroke, layer by layer, to create a nuanced depth of character.
There are many different themes that resonate throughout the book. The art world. Gender roles and how women interract differently with men and women. The feminist movement. Childhood and adulthood. The nature of time. The casual cruelty of adults towards children and of children towards each other. The need for resolution. Science and art. Atwood takes sly digs at Toronto, old and new, and the modern world generally. Undoubtedly there are many more layers that whizzed over my head.
At a personal level, I felt an unusually strong affinity for the lead character. Certain aspects of her childhood life resonated with my own. Not that I was ever bullied, but the sense of dislocation from those around you, the desire to fit in at all costs and not make waves, the lack of connection with a childhood home and the unexpected connection with somewhere quite different (in Elaine's case it was Vancouver: "...as far away from Toronto as I could get without drowning", in my case Scotland). And I liked that Elaine was on the outside just a rather ordinary middle-aged woman, but her art seethed with violent emotions (not directly like me, there, but I can understand it).
But even without any personal connection, this book is a wondrous affair, every line a joy to read. The story itself is fairly slight, but the undertones have as much depth as the reader cares to draw out. And if it sounds dry, it's not, it's salted with humour that had me laughing out loud many times. I highly recommend it. Five stars.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2003
As a writer myself (largely unpublished I'm afraid), I read Margaret Atwood and regularly find myself thinking 'I wish I'd written that'. Her prose is always beautifully written and compelling, and she has a habit of finding the perfect phrase to describe an event or emotion.
This expertise is displayed strongly in 'Cat's Eye'. The mind games played between the teenage Elaine and Cordelia, and the lasting effect they have on Elaine's adult life, are told in a way that makes us believe Atwood has been there. Only the most expert male author - or pyschologist! - could understand the adolescent girl in this way; this really is the woman's inside view.
A reservation many have about Atwood is that her novels on occasion become a showcase for her excellent prose, ahead of a real plot. This is the one thing that let's 'Cat's Eye' down. By the end you know all about Elaine, but you were someone to ask you 'so what happens in this book?', you might well struggle to answer.
This is far more noticeable in some of Atwood's other work, and 'Cat's Eye' is still very compelling. But for her best work, I recommend 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'The Blind Assassin', which both combine her superb writing and plots that will have you turning pages frantically until the very last.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Atwood is without doubt one of the finest modern writers, and her prose never fails to disappoint. This is a story that will strike a chord with anyone who has been bullied as a child, giving an insight into the torment of psychological bullying which is painful to read but brilliant in its execution.
I found the first part of the book, which focuses on the young childhood of the narrator, to be the strongest. The latter part of the book, covering her adult life, was there to mark time until she arrived at the 'present' of the narration, and as such didn't hold my attention as much.
The depiction of the behaviour of young girls is one of the best I have found, and even in the later sections where the plot is weaker, the writing is good enough to keep it enjoyable.
Whilst I wouldn't say this is Atwood's best work, it is still a very good read and, I think, would be both painful and cathartic to those who have suffered from bullying.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2001
I did not read this book out of my own free will. We were forced to read this book in my English class, and as English is my second language and because I'm only 16 years old, I was discouraged at first. It took me a long time to really get into this book. I read and read but only because we had to finish it off. In the end I found myself reading ahead of the others because I was captured by Atwood's intense way of describing feelings we all have, as low self-esteem, depression, hatred and, to a lesser extend, love. I am writing this review in order to encourage people in the same situation as I (forced to read it) to continue no matter how hopeless this book seems at first. It's worth it. It's deep, intense and it'll teach you about life. Read it and think about, and then, think about it again.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2014
After loving nearly all her previous books, I was disappointed in this one. The themes it ruminates on are well chosen and well described but the story itself goes no where,
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2000
The life of painter Elaine Risley is told in clever sequences, weaving her childhood memories in and out of pockets of her current middle-age. Families, (and what they represent) notably Cordelia's and the Smeaths, as well as Elaine's own, are the main focus of her paintings, and then of the story. Margaret Atwood's ability to create real people, whether main characters or fleeting strangers, is inspiring and original. I first read this book when I was fourteen and loved it fiercely. Nine years later, Elaine's life and her astute observations of the people surrounding her are as vivid and striking as ever.