28 February 2010

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Thoughts and Reflections:
Margaret Atwood is most certainly one of my favourite authors and is a main contributor to literature on Canadian identity. Thus, often before I even crack open one of her books, I already love it. I love the element of cynicism in her works, her writing style, her character development, and definitely the topics on which she writes. Cat’s Eye was no different. I had purchased the book years ago, though, due to moving around a fair sum in recent years, I had nearly forgotten about it. I was reminded of it when visiting my family at Christmas when I saw it on my mom’s book shelf. I promptly picked it up and was instantly captured.

The theme of the lost friendship or the missed opportunity of a great friendship is a heartbreaking theme. It is maddening that the protagonist permits this to embitter her life, that an instance childhood cruelty can affect her adult life. Though, I suppose, we all struggle with those scarring elements of our childhood.

I most definitely enjoyed this read, but found a hard one for its topic and themes. My heart broke for Elaine as she experienced the cruelty of children.

The Author:
Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s finest (at least in my books). She was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1939 and spent much of her childhood traipsing throughout Ontario and Northern Quebec with her parents. She graduated with a BA from the University of Toronto in 1961, before going on to Harvard’s Radcliff College to do her Master’s Degree, which she did not complete. However, she has taught at a number of universities and has led a long and vigorous writing career. Among other awards and prizes for her writings, she had won the Man Booker Prize 5 times in her writing career. She currently lives in Toronto with long-time partner, Graeme Gibson. Cat’s Eye won the Governor General’s Award in 1988.

Brief Synopsis:
The book goes back and forth between memories of her childhood, and the present. The novel follows her through her college years, a broken marriage, moving from Toronto to Vancouver, into a new and healthy marriage, and into the present. In the present, Elaine, the protagonist, is a successful artist. She is visiting Toronto for an art exhibition of her own and begins to remember and sort through her past, particularly the role of Cornelia in her life.

Elaine spent her childhood growing up in Ontario in the 1960s/1970s. Her early years are spent travelling throughout Northern Ontario with her parents and brother. Eventually, her father takes a job at the University of Toronto, where they settle. Elaine, having little interaction with other girls, is thrilled at the opportunity to make some new friends. Though she makes friends quickly, the group begins to pick on her and bully her at the initiative of one member, Cornelia. Elaine is unable to stand up to the group and subjects herself to their ridicule and criticism. Eventually, after an incident that nearly cost her life, she is able to walk away and makes other friends. In high school, however, she becomes friends with Cornelia once again. However, now the tables have turned. Cornelia is the awkward individual, whereas Elaine is relatively popular.

Main Themes:
Friendship and Lost Friendship: Elaine mourns the loss of a long-term friendship with Cornelia. Cornelia bullied her in her youth as a game, rather than befriending her, thus ruining the chances of real friendship. In the closing scene, Elaine is on the plane and bitterly observes the games, interaction, and friendship two elderly women who are taking a holiday together.

Constructions of Identity and Childhood Scars: Elaine struggles in her adulthood with insecurities and issues from her childhood. Her trip to Toronto, though dark and difficult, enables her to reconcile with some of these issues, memory, and identity.

Arts and Science: Elaine’s father and brother are both scientists, yet, Elaine, despite being savvy in the sciences, chooses to be an artist. This opens a discussions regarding Elaine’s tendency to introspection and the awareness of thoughts and feelings, over a scientific understanding of the physical world.

Maturation: The novel walks with Elaine from her childhood to her adulthood and provides an analysis of how individuals form morals, identity, and way of life. Despite taking on all the outward responsibilities and actions of adulthood –a career, sexuality, marriage, motherhood, etc –aspects of her childhood are mixed in with her adult life.

Things I Loved About This Book:
1)The discussion about feminist and artistic movements in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s

2)Again, I loved the language and word choice. Where else will you hear something like, “I am exploding slowly outward, into the cold burning void of space,” or “I am well on my way to becoming a cantankerous old witch”?!

3)Elaine. Though, at times, I was frustrated with Elaine and her lack of ability to improve her situation when she was miserable, I certainly felt I could relate to her and her struggle.

4)The atmosphere. It was somewhat grim, yet maintained a certain element of hope and reconciliation.

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