Title: Cat’s Eye
Author: Margaret Atwood
“Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones. This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future. The ruin you’ve made.”
Cat’s Eye is a novel which jumps around in time, but follows the story of Elaine, and her life so far as she moves back to her home town of Toronto. Speaking in the first person, Elaine describes her somewhat unconventional upbringing during World War 2, and the girls she made friends with as a child. What starts off as quite a usual description of a childhood soon turns into a painful story of bullying, manipulation and the cruelty of children. But as Elaine’s narrative flips to the present, she doesn’t seem to have many memories of the atrocities inflicted on her by those girls, so we are left wondering if she has purposefully blocked them out, or whether she was so scarred by them, that they have managed to hide themselves from her for so many years.
I really enjoyed the narrative of the protagonist in this book; the way she told her story was interesting, subtle and very candid which made the story more intriguing throughout. Atwood is good at making you think about your own behaviour and the way you treat other people, and she certainly doesn’t let you forget the impact of the actions of others either.
It was interesting to see how other characters changed throughout the novel, based on Elaine’s perspective, the most obvious example being Cordelia. Cordelia’s story was a rollercoaster in itself, and what I found strange, was despite her actions as a child, Elaine somehow forgives her when she is a teenager, presumably because she has few other friends to rely on. I think this act alone really embeds the trauma that Elaine has been affected by as a child, a trauma which somehow allows her to reinvent Cordelia in her own mind.
The novel is littered with visceral descriptions, which, as I listened to this as an audiobook, definitely produced the uncomfortable feeling I think Atwood was aiming for. There’s an unnerving candour in Elaine’s narrative, as if she wants every detail laid bare. Not only this, but it was also agonising to see her blame herself for the actions of others. This again just reinforces Atwood’s style of making sure nothing is sugar-coated or rose-tinted: everything is real and painful.
Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale tells a harrowing story of a disturbing, misogynistic dystopian world which I certainly would not want to see come true. But what’s worse, is that the crueltly Elaine experienced as a child in Cat’s Eye is not only realistic, but has happened countless times in our own world. Atwood triumphs at exposing how truly horrible little girls can be and so the novel becomes a timeless reminder to think about our actions and most importantly, to not let our past haunt us.