McClelland & Stewart
I have never understood the tendency for some older people to view childhood as an easy time, free of care and responsibility. Sure, you don’t have to pay the bills, but you get no choices on where you live, what you eat, and you are forced to go to school. I was a little girl and little girls can have the capacity and the opportunity to be utterly horrendous to each other, as they frequently are.
When I was seven we moved house. We were originally in a Baby Boomer suburb that was quite idyllic for a child–there was pretty much a kid in every second house on my street, and the school was bursting with children all within walking distance; I had many friends. No problem fitting in at all. Then, for some reason, we moved to an older-persons’ suburb; I was the first new kid for ages, and I did not fit in at all in the social structure of the school I had joined. It may have been okay except the year level I was in was run by a tiny group of malicious girls. And my goodness did they make my life a misery–I was a target: new, wore glasses and was brainy enough to be ‘up myself’ (apparently getting good marks on tests qualified). I copped a lot of nasty bullying from those girls over the three years I was in that school; it only subsided somewhat when another new girl turned up and they hated her worse because she didn’t speak English (she became my Bestie, though). Now, when I think about it, probably there was a lot going on in the home lives of those horrid girls, so that the power trip of making my life a living hell was some sort of outlet for them.
This is of course relevant to Cat’s Eye. It was like someone took my childhood, changed the names/faces/events, but recreated every moment, and worked through it for me to get a some sort of closure.
I had read Margaret Atwood before (Alias Grace, The Robber Bride, A Handmaid’s Tale) but for some reason it took me a while to hunt down her other books. I’m now an avid fan. I found a copy of Cat’s Eye in the op shop randomly one day, read it, and it was honestly like the best accidental therapy I’d ever experienced. I have yet to meet a woman who has read it who does not deeply identify with the the feelings and the very real descriptions of the way small children behave. I’ve yet to meet a woman who was not, as a small girl, tormented by other small girls.
Elaine, the narrator, takes us through the tale of her life; she weaves a tale of shifting power. The power you allow other people over your life, the power you have over your own life, and the power you choose take over others. The nature of what ‘control’ and ‘power’ is, ebbs and flows throughout the book as she tries to reconcile her childhood with her subsequent adult choices.
Atwood has a way of writing characters so that we recognise them, they spring forth from the page fully realised and they act as humans do. That is the true gift of Atwood: and she has it in everything she touches.