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Reviews of Cat's Eye (1989)

Review by michael a draper (2012-07-27)
This is a gentle story that is partially a coming of age novel and partly about interpersonal relationships. It's the story of Elaine Risley.

Elaine is an artist who returns to Toronto for an introspective of her work. Her art work is based on her life so in learning about her life, we have a better idea of her art.

The story is divided into parts with flashbacks into Elaine's childhood. Early on, she remembers growing up and constantly moving and how she wished she had some friends.

Her brother, Stephen was her only companion but when the family moves to Toronto and her father takes a position as a college professor, things settle down.

She meets a number of girls her age and befriends three of them. Cordelia dominates the group. She's demanding and often cruel but the little girls accept her. Elaine is vulnerable, too fearful of speaking her mind but goes along with whatever Cordelia demands.

One of the other girls is Grace Smeath. Elaine is often invited to her home and notices their unusual rules such as allowing only four tissues when going to the bathroom.

Mrs. Smeath becomes one of Elaine's subjects in her art. In one of them, Mrs. Smeath is covered with tissues. One time, Elaine was having a show with a number of other women. A person enters the building and begins shouting. Elaine thought it might be Mrs. Smeath's daughter but it was just a cranky woman.

Another of her art subjects is the Virgin Mary. She has a real interest in her and prays to her.

We learn of Elaine through her thoughts, her friendships and interests.

Women might enjoy the book because it shows Elaine's success in coming out of her shell. Men might like the book because they might read it and understand women better.

(This review refers to the 1989 version titled “Cat's Eye”)

Review by mojosmom (2004-08-27)
Elaine Risley is a successful painter living in Vancouver. A retrospective of her work is the occasion of her return to Toronto, where she grew up. She reflects on her childhood, especially on her ninth year and her relationship with three other girls at her school and its impact on her life and art.

The book is very well written, with excellent description, but it is not my favorite of Atwood's books. While attempting to show the connection between the artist's early life and her work, Atwood reduces the connection simply to imagery, without making clear the psychological and emotional connections. The characters' motivations were not as finely done as in some of her other works.

An enjoyable book, nonetheless.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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