Elaine Risley, a painter, returns to Toronto to find herself overwhelmed by her past. Memories of childhood — unbearable betrayals and cruelties — surface relentlessly, forcing her to confront the spectre of Cordelia, once her best friend and tormentor, who has haunted her for forty years.
“Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.”
Cat’s Eye is an in-depth look at the effects of childhood bullying and how it has long-term, lasting effects.
Elaine Risley escaped her bullies and went on to be a successful artist but the buried memories of her childhood still haunt her. It’s only when she returns to Toronto as an adult and reminisces as she visits the places she used to live and her old school that she realises much they still affect her and have harmed her relationships with other people in her life.
A strong theme running through the book is that revenge – an eye for an eye – is a dead end; it hurts everyone involved. Elaine got revenge on her bullies by becoming harder and meaner than them but that had knock-on effects on her relationships with other people. Elaine has to forgive herself for her actions as much as she has to forgive the people who bullied her.
“But I began to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of the other. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water.”
Time changes the way you view things, memories change and you see people and events differently as you age. When Elaine looks back on her childhood she can see that the bullies were trying to compensate for problems in their own life, it wasn’t anything Elaine did that caused it. She realises that her bullies weren’t concerned with her but with themselves. You are never the centre of other people’s stories: they are.
Margaret Atwood has a knack for telling complex and in depth stories in an accessible and easy to understand way. I think she’s brilliant at character observation: she knows exactly what to do to bring her character’s personalities to life. She also has this open and friendly writing style that just makes her stories super readable. I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read by her, and this has to be one of my favourites so far.
I loved reading Elaine’s life story, how she travelled with her family and her experience of growing up in the 40’s and 50’s. Actual events from history are woven in around Elaine’s life, which really helps to ground the story in reality. I’ve never been to Toronto but I was so engrossed in the story I felt like I could imagine myself there with Elaine. Now, I feel a bit like I have actually visited the city itself!
This is another brilliant book by Margaret Atwood. It’s very cleverly done and it’s also very enjoyable. Highly recommended!