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3.8 out of 5 stars
Cat Out of Hell (Unabridged)
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Lynne Truss has written a witty, scary, oddball, corpse-filled ,literature-loving, perfectly-punctuated, (I assume) , delight of a book.

The problem is – I can’t say very much about it without spoiling the journey which you, dear reader, need to make for yourself, without your own voyage of discovery being marred by inadvertent and carelessly strewn spoilers by this (or any) reviewer.

I was one of the very lucky ones, getting this as a very early ARC from the publisher, and all I had to go on, was this, from the fairly minimalist (great, no spoilers!) blurb:

“By acclaimed storyteller Lynne Truss, author of the bestselling Eats, Shoots and Leaves, the mesmerising tale of a cat with nine lives, and a relationship as ancient as time itself and just as powerful.

The scene: a cottage on the coast on a windy evening. Inside, a room with curtains drawn. Tea has just been made. A kettle still steams. Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat. The story about to be related is so unusual yet so terrifyingly plausible that it demands to be told in a single sitting. The man clears his throat, and leans forward, expectant.

'Shall we begin?' says the cat.”

I must admit, the dustjacket picture didn’t particularly lure me – I thought it a little bit whimsical, and feared something which might be chocolate box cutesy humour funny-ish.

But of course, I know Truss is sharp, dry and pithily rather than fluffily funny.

The story is dedicated to a friend who likes ‘proper’ horror stories, so, clearly this is going to be some sort of tickle your funny bone with horror mixture. (And more)

Okay, to try and lure you, o reader. Your cast of characters includes the above-mentioned talking cat (and another), an endearing dog (more of whom I must not say in order to avoid a spoiler) except that he belongs to a couple of academic Cambridge University librarians and is called Watson, so is the butt of several jokes which will delight Sherlockians. Then there is the central human, recently bereaved, in a Norfolk holiday cottage, with his laptop, no internet access but a previously sent folder from a fellow librarian. There is an actor who is a little slow on the uptake.There are a good few bodies. There are copious classic literature references (our man is a librarian, after all) . There is academic and historical research into occult literature.

Even if you are remarkably unacquainted and uninterested in library stacks, Victorian fiction, the history of occultism, Egyptology, demonology or preconceptions about cats and dogs, this book will I think be a page turning delight. Believe me. Our talking cat doesn’t do chat, for example, but masters Times cryptic crosswords and is highly supercilious (and other things)

As for the dedication to the friend who likes ‘proper’ horror stories, suffice it to say that in bed early in the morning, having fed the cats, and enjoying my breakfast cuppa, with a cat nestling cosily beside me I read this (I have made a few excisions to avoid spoilers)

“The exceptional cats…..aren’t the product of some sort of miracle…..they just haven’t degenerated the way all the others have….this explains such a lot about cat behaviour….When they hiss at us, you can tell that they really expect us to fall over and die…because that is what used to happen. So when we stand there, unharmed, and laughing in their faces, they’re completely miffed…..they’re conscious of having lost their ability to do serious evil, and they feel bloody humiliated”

At which point, cosy nestling cat began to talk….”Mrr…Mhaa…Mmmaaaahhr” and I must admit I had a slight ‘hairs up’ moment at the timing, and she continued to utter short little cat exclamations for no reason I could discern. Then she climbed onto my lap, gazed at me seriously, as she is wont to do, and began kneading and purring. I read on….

“You know the way cats do that trampling sort of thing on your lap……It was how cats used to kill people by pretending to be friendly and then severing their femoral arteries! Purring was the way they sent people into a trance…..”

At which point, I discreetly (not wanting to anger her) but purposefully got up and had a shower.

There is so much to enjoy in this, and I hope that I have persuaded you to read it, on publication. Believe me, this is nothing like any of those wonderful, but whimsical Paul Gallico cat books, and DEFINITELY nothing like the ‘spiritual’ fluffy cat books currently in vogue

I did feel that the final section managed the balance of horror and humour rather less well – the detecting and investigation part of the story was terrific, but the inevitable confrontation between antagonists, once deduction has happened, did see my extreme enjoyment wane a bit. I felt Truss was rather better at slow set up than at rapid action. Overall though, I absolutely recommend this

PS Any one interested in giving a home to 3 extremely good natured cats? I don’t THINK any of them know how to read emails. Well I hope not. Was that scratching behind the wainscoting………..?

Oh – and finally, such is the authenticity of Truss’s writing that even though I know (don’t I?) that this IS a fantasy, I was interested in seeing what had been thrown up in the research, and Googled some of the named characters and search terms cited by our academician and found……….(well, that would be telling, and maybe YOU will just have to see for yourself!)

PS Aficionados of Truss’s’ grammatical works: any crimes of MY grammar and punctuation above, are to be deplored. Please DON’T tell Truss about my linguistic offences.
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Alec, a retired librarian has recently been widowed. He heads off to a coastal village in North Norfolk with his small dog Watson in search of peace. But one night, while searching for mental stimulation, he opens his laptop and starts looking through a folder entitled ‘Roger’ which a former colleague had sent him. Inside that folder are files in which a man called Wiggy tells the story of his acquaintance with Roger – a talking cat, who sounds like Vincent Price. In a story that spans decades, Roger tells of how he learned to speak. Alec becomes part of the story, caught up in a world that contains a mysterious cat called Captain, kidnapping, murder and satanic cults. And yes, some cats really do have nine lives.

‘Purring was the way they sent people into a trance, you see – and then, when their prey was sort of paralysed and helpless, the cats would set to work with their claws.’

The story moves at a quick pace, and I found the first half much funnier than the second. In the second half, well, things get frenetic and a little dangerous. It’s a combination of humour and horror that doesn’t always work, although I won’t be adding a cat to my household anytime soon.

I’d recommend reading this in one sitting if possible.

‘As if stories ever did end anyway.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2014
I'm a cat lover and I adore the author's non fiction work, but nothing prepared me for just how enjoyable this was going to be. the tongue in cheek narrative, and the characters both human and feline were engaging, witty and thoroughly funny. thank you for brightening up a long train journey
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2014
This is very different to what you might expect from the author of Eats, Shoots. While it has the light and humorous touch that all her writing has, she has managed to embrace her darker side. It is really tightly plotted with great characterisation (one of whom only gets two lines - or does he?). Highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2014
Absolutely hated this book. I love all sorts of genres but this was truly stupid, the story didn't make sense, the author jumped around with no coherent structure. Hard to read at times. She had unreliable narrators so I get she's trying to get old/mad across but it was just poorly done. Some really gruesome, horrible scenes, (pit of cats slowly dying, a woman locked in a cellar scratching at the wall for days her dead dog next to her eaten by rats) there should he a warning, it's really disturbing. The story itself was so ridiculous, especially near the end, it didn't truly explain itself and then just stole a sherlock ending...I just can't get over enough how rubbish this book was and how much I hated it!!!!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 March 2014
This is good fun: I haven't read any 'proper' horror, so I don't know whether or not this should be classed as parody, or if it's usually done in this tone.

There's a suitably unnecessary framing device, a totally preposterous character, an intriguing enough plot, and a satisfying conclusion - all executed with wit and verve.

I loved that librarians, of all people, are at the centre of such an adventure, and there are lots and lots of sly jokes throughout.

Good fun, good value, good buy.

Felicitous. And I'm not even a cat person. Purrrr.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 March 2014
Alec, a retired librarian and recent widower, is taking a break in a coastal village to get over his recent bereavement and decides to look into a laptop filled with information given to him by a fellow librarian. Inside the laptop are files that tell the story of an actor called Wiggy and his acquaintance with Roger - a talking cat. Roger’s story spans decades, years in which his supernatural longevity, intelligence and speech were down to a mysterious cat called the Captain and a Satanic cat cult. And Alec is soon to realise his wife’s death wasn’t an accident - the hellcats are coming for him next!

Cat Out Of Hell is one of the laziest novels I’ve read in a while. I’ve never read a Lynne Truss book before so I can’t say if this is her usual style but it reads like it was a frenzied NaNoWriMo effort (National Novel Writing Month where people try to write a 50k word novel during the month of November) thrown together in bursts of typing over actual creativity. Characters splutter exposition through one badly constructed scene after another without a hint of a plot with key details left out with no attempt at making it seem like a cohesive whole.

This is what it feels like was racing through the author’s mind as she hacked this one out: there’s this evil cat cult - people dying! - Roger’s evil - no, wait the Captain’s evil - no wait, the cat cult is evil - no wait the evil librarian is evil - no, the evil librarian’s the head honcho - why did that character die, never mind, they’re dead, they were never “characters” anyway! - why did that character do that action even though it went against their flimsily created character, never mind, moving on - why did we suddenly jump ahead 70 years, NEVER MIND!!! - wait, why did Roger and the Captain fall out despite being besties for years? - NEVER MIND, KEEP GOING!!!! Done? Thank god! Well, no need to go back and make sure it reads well, I’ll just send this off and get on with my life. Cheque please!

It’s madness! You can follow what’s happening but the narrative skips and jumps for no reason. When Truss builds up to an interesting scene like a heist or a murder mystery reveal, she skips it and jumps ahead to the aftermath - probably because that’s easier to write - before going back to the safety of Alec or Wiggy’s overly chatty, rather scatterbrained narration.

The ending is also a massive let down. Events stumble clumsily to the final act and then, just when I thought it couldn’t possibly be this predictable, Truss MUST do something a little different to make things at least a bit interesting, she opts instead for exactly the least original choice. Other bizarre creative decisions in the narrative involve switching from first person narration to email exchanges, screenplay scenes, and something downright sickening called an “e-miaow” (definitely the only horror element in the novel), for no reason!

Truss’ ideas about the long living, talking cats could barely be called ideas. If you’re a cat owner you’ll know they have a habit of kneading their paws on you - Truss spins it so that cats used to have powers to kill humans and the non-powered cats do this expecting you to die and are disappointed when you don’t. Hmm, heard that before. Or how about their superior attitude that seems completely undeserved? Well, they used to have powers and… zzz… Ho hum.

Truss even seems aware of her languorous efforts and addresses them in the text itself: “I no longer care much about the gaps in this story, so I hope you don’t either.” So there you go - any gaps in the story won’t be addressed and neither will the stuff that didn’t make sense. But she “thoroughly enjoyed writing it, so there you are.” Alright guys? Up yours! I put more effort and thought into writing this review than Truss did in the entire novel.

Cat Out Of Hell isn’t horror, it’s dreary nothing. It’s not comedy either, I didn’t see any jokes in the text. It completely fails at the two genres it attempts. It’s grammatically sound, as you’d expect from the author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, but what a pitiful positive that is to say about a novel! Cat Out Of Hell is a rushed, poorly conceived and even more poorly executed hack job that I wouldn’t even line my cat’s litter tray with. If you want to read an interesting talking cat story, check out Saki’s short story, Tobermory instead.
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I love Lynne Truss's writing; she wears her brilliance so lightly. But I didn't care for this because I have an aversion to anthropomorphised animals. How fascinating it was, though, to read it immediately after Life of Pi! In Pi, the tiger Richard Parker, may (or may not) be imaginary but at least the author keeps his big cat within the realms of reality. Talking cats are, for me, a turn-off and I'm left wondering about the sub-text here. Is Lynne Truss perhaps working through her feelings in the light of her recent and highly unusual transformation from 'cat person' to 'dog person'? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?
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on 1 May 2014
Having heard an interview with the authoress on Radio5 this sounded like it might be an enjoyable read especially since I rarely read novels as I often find them a little 'obvious'. Unfortunately, this novel met that very expectation and the little clues and points that the plot would later revolve around could've been telegraphed by Samuel Morse himself! It would be an excellent book for a young teenager perhaps but the premise of using cats in place of some other supernatural malevolent being was, for me, just....too obvious. It was beautifully punctuated though (unlike this review).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2014
I am a great fan of Lynne Truss and was expecting this book to make me laugh out loud. But, instead, it was a horror story and I just did not enjoy that aspect.
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