Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood – a moving exploration into the twisted nature of female friendship

2 Feb

During the Christmas holiday period, I pretty much devoured ‘Cat’s Eye’ by Margaret Atwood.  I’ve reviewed some of her work before and she has been one of those writers that I’ve been drawn to, in terms of the subject matter of her novels.  Despite this, though, I’ve never been fully convinced by her writing (I wasn’t a huge fan of ‘The Edible Woman’ or ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’… I know, controversial stuff) which I sometimes find rather verbose and I sometimes find it difficult to fully connect with her protagonists.  That was until I read ‘Cat’s Eye’.

The novel is centred around the Elaine Risley, a famous painter, reminiscing about her childhood and early adult years, specifically on her relationship with Cordelia.  It explores the strange and often twisted nature of female friendships at such a young age, where Cordelia is a tormenter and bully, her meanness veiled under the guise of friendship.  The dynamic changes as Elaine grows older and finds herself in the position of power and Cordelia changes from tormenter to a vulnerable, confused young woman.

7675953

Reading this book was like experiencing a long drawn-out blow to the stomach that moved me to tears… in a weirdly satisfying, masochistic way.  ‘Cat’s Eye’ transported me back to my younger days, when cruel psychological games, and friendship and humiliation seemed to go hand in hand.  Atwood manages to infuse a sense of loneliness and isolation throughout the whole novel and I found myself incredibly drawn into Elaine’s memories and the unresolved feelings she carries with her,  even as a middle-aged woman.  I have never read a novel that so powerfully and effectively explores the difficulties of desperately wanting to belong to a group that you will subjugate yourself and become someone you despise.  The novel highlights the dark side of female friendships – the interdependence of certain friendships that can make you feel both feel invincible and suffocated at the same time.  It is as though nothing else matters in that moment but that person, your friend, although there is an impending sense that your “friendship” is held up by delicate strings that can break at any moment.  I can relate to Elaine’s memories and mixed feelings about what happened in her past including her own actions; I have experienced feelings of betrayal with “friends” in the past that turned out to be beyond cruel but like the protagonist of ‘Cat’s Eye,’ I am guilty of colluding in this dynamic as well.

A hauntingly moving novel that lingered in my mind for days after finishing it.

Just finished reading…

9 Jul

…’The Edible Woman’ by Margaret Atwood

Image

I’ve just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s first published novel, ‘The Edible Woman’ which came out in 1969 and propelled Atwood into the literary world.  I’d only read ‘The  Handmaid’s Tale’ by her, which I felt (possibly, somewhat controversially) was overhyped and I was keen to see whether I felt this was the case with other Atwood novels.

At many points in this novel, I did.  I found the prose slow-going and dull in parts and was unable to empathise with the protagonist, Marian, or even care what would actually happen to her.   In the introduction, Atwood states that she wrote this novel at 23 and it was published at 24, which probably accounts for the prose laden with imagery and symbolism that is at times shoved down the reader’s throat.  A brief summary of the story is that Marian, a young, employed, educated woman,  finds herself unable to eat at first meat, then all sorts of other things from the moment she gets engaged, which represents a sort of subconscious rebellion to the patriarchal role of woman in society.  I thought the themes that Atwood explored in the novel were incredibly interesting – namely, the conflicting role of women, especially during the late 60’s.  Women then were becoming more and more educated but many of the careers they could go into offered few prospects for real progression.  At the same time, the idea of female in society was still very much that they should marry and fulfil their womanly duties as wife and mother – an idea which was becoming increasingly at odds with the rise in educated young women.

I really liked the representation of women as ‘edible’ , i.e. there to be consumed and devoured by men and I thought the idea was witty and insightful.  It was just that I felt the novel dragged on for too long and some of the characters felt a little two-dimensional and in my opinion, didn’t really add much to the story.

Atwood uses foils to great extent for the characters to demonstrate their opposing qualities: Marian is contrasted with her roommate Ainsley, who initially seems freer from restraints however interestingly ends up being the character with the more traditional setup (she ends up with a child and a husband).  The two predominant male characters seem to be diametrically opposed as well: there is Marian’s inconsiderate fiancée, Peter and the manipulative self-absorbed English graduate Duncan.

Stylistically, I liked the use of first person and third person to denote the emotions (or in the latter case, the lack of) and it is clear that Atwood is a talented writer; however, I was simply unable to fully immerse myself in her world which felt to me, rather flat and one-dimensional.  Having read such great things about Atwood’s writing ability, though, I’ll read a few more of her novels to see if she’s a ‘grower’ but at this moment in time, I’m not a huge fan.

Many of the themes I am attempting to explore in my own novel are prevalent in Atwood’s writing so it’s all useful research!