I recently revisited Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye by listening to the unabridged audio edition (Random House Audio; 16 h, 31 min) read by Kimberly Farr. Instead of writing a full review of a book I first read about twenty years ago, I thought I'd give you a quick summary and then share some of my thoughts.
Feminist artist Elaine Risley, returns to her childhood city of Toronto for a retrospective exhibit of her work. In the down time between dealing with the logistics of the show, she wanders the city and reflects on her troubled childhood, her difficult young adulthood, and the surprise of finding herself old enough and established enough to put together a retrospective show.
Elaine recalls her life in pieces,
You don't look back along time, but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away. (p. 1)It is the "sometimes nothing" that is particularly problematic for Elaine. Throughout her life, she is periodically startled by a gap in her memory, a time period that seems lost. What she learns, long after her life has settled into comfort, is that she was the victim of childhood bullies who sometimes acted as friends, confusing the young Elaine who wasn't prepared for how cruel girls can be.
Elaine's current trip to Toronto is not what triggers her memories of that incident. But being back in the city causes her to think of those girls and how her relationship with them hardened her, shaped her ideas of feminist issues, and even informed her art.
As many have said before me, Atwood captured the disturbing truth of many girlhood friendships and how the origin of such meanness and competition was often found in the girls' mothers and in the generations of women before them. Atwood was born in 1939, and when she writes of friendships, sexual relationships, gender, motherhood, religion, and opportunities, she speaks to all women who came of age in the twentieth-century. Cat's Eye would make a great book club read, especially for a group that includes multiple generations.
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