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On Cats Hardcover – 2 Dec 2002
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‘A distillation of everything that makes her work such a joy to read…Lessing's intensely visual imagination and coolly precise style fleshes out this feline life. A work of exquisite tenderness and poignancy, thoroughly devoid of artifice, over-elaboration or mawkish sentimentality…Wonderful.’ Scotsman
‘“Particularly Cats” is not really about cats at all, it’s about real characters.’ Daily Mail
‘An unsentimental and unwhimsical, but not unpartisan, study of cat-and-human relationships. An entertaining read for both cat and Lessing connoisseurs.’ Observer
From the Back Cover
Doris Lessing's love affair with cats began at a young age, when she became intrigued with the semi-feral creatures on the African farm where she grew up. Her fascination remained undiminished by the handsome domesticated creatures who shared her flats and her life in London, and grew into real love with the awkwardly lovable El Magnifico, the last cat to share her home.
Consisting of the celebrated collection of stories, 'Particularly Cats' and 'Rufus the Survivor', and the memoir, 'The Old Age of El Magnifico', this book brilliantly evokes the subtleties of feline existence. No other writer conveys so truthfully the real interdependence of humans and cats or convinces us with such stunning recognition of the reasons why cats 'really' matter.
"Wonderful…A work of exquisite tenderness and poignancy."
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Decades after the death of a beloved feline childhood companion, and after acquiescing in the necessary but horrific cull of cats on an African farm, Doris Lessing re-embarked on a voyage of cat discovery. Various incarnations of ship's cat, vain, flirtatious, self-indulgent, neurotic, courageous, grateful, loving, accompanied her and she was present at births and deaths. She watched and recorded matings, friendships and rivalries, mothers teaching kittens, hunting. She tended animals that were injured or became ill and took on board those that were neglected and needed help.
There was a cat that would only eat lightly cooked calves' liver and lightly boiled whiting, another who seemed devoid of maternal feelings and who once drew attention to herself by speaking in a language of sausages stolen from a neighbour's house. One travelled twenty miles across the veld, avoiding predators and crossing two rivers, to return to the farmhouse where she was reared. Another risked her life during a tropical thunderstorm rather than abandon the kittens she had given birth to in a disused mineshaft.
Cats vary in the quantity and quality of their intelligence, Doris Lessing discovered. Rufus, who was constantly challenged by adversity, was calculating and survived by living on his wits. Another male had the inquiring mind of a scientist. Telepathic communication when circumstances permit is not ruled out.
It is to the neutered male, Butchkin, alias El Magnifico, that she is most closely drawn. When they are able to sit quietly together in his old age `then he subtly lets me know he understands I am trying to reach him, reach cat, essence of cat, finding the best of him. Human and cat we try to transcend what separates us.'
This book is in essence a love story.
Rather, I felt the author's understanding of an individual cat's character was deepened by her experience of cats, such as the occasion when she witnessed cats culled on an African farm, and so giving, through her controlled prose, a unique understanding of cat 'personality' as much as that of Lessing's own personality, as their observer.
I also enjoyed the way the stories chronicled Doris' own change and development in perspective on cat care as her living experience changed and evolved from the outback in Africa through flat and country life in England.
A highly recommended delight for all lovers of cats and fine literature.
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Lyrical but never sentimental , it captures perfectly the ephemeral quality of the cats and...Read more