Cat’s Eye / Margaret Atwood

In the novel Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood presents the recollections of Elaine Riley, a painter who in late middle age has returned to her home town of Toronto. She is there to attend a retrospective of her collected art. While she has gained some fame, she is considered by many to be well past her prime. Leaving her family in Vancouver, her home base for decades, this return evokes a flood of memories from the past. The puzzle of her childhood is used to piece together the adult that Elaine has become.

The focus of her recollections is on her childhood in the late 1940s and a trio of girls she befriended then. In their company, she was initiated into the dangers of the world awaiting her outside the family home and the betrayals friendship can bring.

Atwood does a marvelous job of recreating the longings and confusion that accompany the transition from childhood into adolescence and ultimately the scary advance into adulthood. Elaine, the book’s narrator, is a character I was instantly drawn to and able to sympathize with. This novel is a story of her many different personalities: daughter, friend, mother, and finally the artist who reflects a composite of these separate pieces.

Her memories are at times disturbing, often humorous, and always a realistic portrayal of the life journey all of us make. The book is a compelling read throughout. As I neared the conclusion, I began to fear the story would take a misstep and veer into a feel-good ending. But Atwood is too good a writer to settle for such a false, “easy out” conclusion. She remains true to Elaine’s growth and maturity based on her childhood experiences.

Turning the last page, I found myself both satisfied and saddened that I would not be spending any more time in Elaine’s company. This is a novel that I will be recommending to one and all. It is an evocative story that delivers the learned life lessons sure to resonate with most readers. While it deals with the dynamics of female relationships, it also addresses the broader human journey through the highs and lows that all of us experience. It is a remarkable book, both funny and serious. Atwood is a gifted author with many excellent novels to her credit. Cat’s Eye stands out as one of her best.

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