Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

(Book 147) Marcia and Karen hosted the discussion of Cat’s Eye in Marcia’s lovely back yard. We met Marcia’s upstairs neighbor, Terry, who had helped Marcia string the lights over the patio. We also met a new puppy — Neo — who was full of energy and a willing disposition to help if there was food that needed to be wrangled off the table. He was hoping to be well behaved while assessing just how far across the table his nose could reach. He wanted very much to reach the appetizer spread of brie with crackers, veggies with spinach and artichoke dip, and Popcorners, but we were willing to guard it for our own consumption.

As the Fearless Leader of the group, I had to start with a quiz, not an official pencil and paper quiz as I used to do, but a quick quiz about the references to Shakespeare. Because the book is set in Canada, Atwood had opportunity to mention the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and was a bit cheeky in a reference to Tyrone Guthrie! My only quiz question was about the names of the three sisters named for Shakespeare heroines. Chris was the star player identifying Cordelia from King Lear, Miranda from The Tempest, and had help with Perdita from A Winter’s Tale. This lead to a discussion about Cordelia’s need to torment Elaine to which Chris opined that Cordelia had been similarly abused by her sisters. We mentioned that the older sisters in Lear, Regan and Goneril set a precedent for unkindness.

We discussed the larger topic of how girls are unkind to each other. Geri said she had to compartmentalize her feelings in an effort to appreciate the book. She said “I tried not to be traumatized by the way the girls treated Elaine!” Mary foolishly encourages me to read passages from the book, so I read what I thought summed the feelings between little girls: “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To each other, they are not cute — and they are life-sized.” We enjoyed that, as a child, Elaine realized boys were her secret allies. Geri admitted she was a tomboy and like playing with boys better than with girls.

Melissa shared that she didn’t find the novel as appealing as other books by Margaret Atwood because she thought it was too autobiographical. I thought the parts of the book that were likely autobiographical were the best parts! I enjoyed the moments in the woods with her brother and the way he taught her to see in the dark. This made me go on and on about all the references to eyes and seeing that are included in this novel:

  • the radio with its single green eye that moved along the dial as you turn the knob,
  • the horse chestnuts that could put your eye out,
  • the teacher’s eyes that were hard to see behind steel-rimmed glasses,
  • the cat’s eye marble that caused Elaine to see the way a cat sees: “I can see the way it sees – people moving like dolls – shapes, sizes, colors, without feeling. I am alive in my eyes only.”
  • the turtle’s heart beating in the exhibition — “it’s like an eye”
  • regarding Mrs. Smeath, “Her bad heart floats in her body like an eye, an evil eye- it sees me”
  • on page 242: Cordelia shouts out “the evil eye!”
  • the flasher on page 307: “I looked him in the Eye, the eye and I said…”
  • Josef’s doleful eyes,
  • Susie’s sly-eyed calculating,
  • John’s paintings that made your eyes hurt,
  • the description of Van Eyck’s painting, “a round mirror like an eye, a single eye that sees more than anyone else looking”
  • a painting entitled An Eye for an Eye,
  • on page 408: “He died of an eye for an eye, or someone’s idea of it.”
  • on page 418: “my blue cat’s eye — I see my life entire.”
  • on page 427: “self righteous piggy eyes — defeated eyes, uncertain and melancholy and
  • on page 430: the Cat’s Eye painting self portrait, Unified Field Theory — the Virgin of Lost Things holds the cat’s eye.

There were even more than listed above, but I chose for the variety of reference. I didn’t read all of these at the meeting, but I add them here because I religiously took notes on them all and bygosh, I’m going to use them. Most of the discussion took place before we ate a lovely meal of Mrs. Smeath’s ham, baked beans, and two very fun and refreshing jello salads — one strawberry and one lime with celery and apples. The salads were reminiscent of the book Something From the Oven that we read ten years ago — we’re all happy we still remember! After the lovely meal, we had a gluten-free blueberry cobbler which sparked a short discussion of what makes a crisp, cobbler, Betty, buckle, slump or pandowdy! I’m guessing that Marcia’s cobbler by any other name would taste as sweet. (You see what I did there? We’re back to Shakespeare.) Marcia sent us a link that explains the classifications.

Other thoughts: Melissa loved the answers that Elaine gave the interviewer earning her the adjective ‘crochety’ in the headline. Mary said that though the novel didn’t speak directly to her as some do, the writing was terrific. Susan was amused that Charna put her own interpretation of Elaine’s art pieces on the gallery cards without consulting Elaine. She also appreciated how much the early part of the book reminded her of growing up in a rural area and meeting friends in the woods. Geri loved the powder blue sweat suit! Karen wondered why some aspects of the story were included, thinking some thing to be extraneous to the plot. Chris read the great description of the Frank Sinatra album finding it particularly apt. Chris liked the language and loved the early childhood experiences. We all felt a little horrible about Susie’s DIY solution to her problem given the recent news of of the Supreme Court decision re Roe v. Wade.

Then the ratings: Susan really liked it and gave it an unapologetic 5 stars! We’re not going to intimidate her into lowering her rating! Marcia and Mary both gave it 4.5 stars. Chris, Geri and Karen gave it 4 stars. Melissa gave it 3 stars because of the aforementioned autobiographical aspect, and I gave it 3 stars because I just didn’t like the way the author used the memory loss to allow Elaine to forget what Cordelia had done so that she could become her friend again in high school. Sharon had spent the day volunteering and managed to exit the evening before giving her Russian judge score! She left without collecting her party favor of 2 large squeezy stress eyeballs packaged with several smaller foil-wrapped chocolate eyeballs. She told me in an email that she was sad to later learn that only the smaller eyeballs were the chocolate favors.

Next up: We will be meeting at Susan’s home on Thursday, August 11, to discuss River Teeth, short stories by James Duncan.

Girls, please add any information that I have forgotten.

3 Replies to “Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood”

  1. Well, I liked the book because of all the references to things I remembered from my own childhood: tensions between my preschool friends when we’d periodically “gang up” on one of the others, sometimes me, sometimes someone else; the changes in Toronto over the years from doughty to classy; the attire and it’s changes over the years, and also the plot, which I liked because of its autobiographical notes. I remember hearing Atwood at an MLA conference in Toronto years and years ago. I was late to her presentation and had to stand up at the back and honest-to-God, I almost wet my pants I laughed so hard. I’d give it a 5. Miss you all.

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