2017 Reading challenge, book 6, a book about female relationships, Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Let me start by saying that Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. I love her work, and one of the things I love is how different her novels are from one another. She likes to experiment with many elements in her writing, so the fun thing is never knowing exactly what you’re getting, but knowing you will always enjoy it because her writing is just so consistently beautiful.
While I love her writing, this is not one of my favorite novels that she has written. I feel as though she portrays the very worst, stereotypical female relationships in this novel. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. There are bullies, there are mean girls. But the protagonist in this novel makes it seem as though nearly all women are this elusive, vengeful creatures that cannot be trusted. She doesn’t have a positive relationship with a single woman. It’s always competitive or aggressive. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a girl that has mostly guy friends. I definitely find them easier to get along with in general. But I can’t agree with the consistently negative, undermining lens through which our protagonist views women. It’s almost anti-feminist, which I find troubling.
The novel follows adult Elaine, female “painter” (she hates the word artist, for some reason) who visits her childhood home, Toronto, when a group of women hosts a retrospective of her artwork. As she experiences the return visit home and the showing of her art, this triggers memories back to her early childhood, which we follow up through adulthood. We see her early foray into “girl friendships” where she unfortunately encounters some of the worst possible mean girls you could ever meet. We see how these troubling relationships shape her development into an adult woman.
It was an interesting excursion through post World War II childhood into her present day, and how being a “child of the war” impacted her worldview and her artwork. Outside of that, it was uncomfortable to read at times–seeing Elaine get bullied as a child and having nobody there to advocate for her was awful to experience. Watching the adults target her also disturbed me deeply. I consider this effective writing–it elicited a strong emotional response within me. That’s always a win in my book.