Cat’s eye, by Margaret Atwood

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Ed. Virago Press, 1989. Size 20 x 13 cm. Condition: used very good (with wear on the bottom of the lid. Interior, impeccable). 422 pages

Cat’s Eye is a 1988 novel by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood about controversial painter Elaine Risley, who vividly reflects on her childhood and teenage years. Her strongest memories are of Cordelia, who was the leader of a trio of girls who were both very cruel and very kind to her in ways that tint Elaine’s perceptions of relationships and her world — not to mention her art — into her middle years. The novel unfolds in mid-20th century Canada, from World War II to the late 1980s, and includes a look at many of the cultural elements of that time period, including feminism and various modern art movements.

After being lured back to her childhood home of Toronto for a retrospective show of her art, Elaine reminisces about her childhood. At the age of eight she becomes friends with Carol and Grace, and, through their eyes, realises that her atypical background of constant travel with her entomologist father and independent mother has left her ill-equipped for conventional expectations of femininity. Although initially awkward and naive of childhood politics and social structure, Elaine is accepted, even admired by her new friends. Her lifestyle, even now, is exotic to the others. Elaine, after fantasizing about having girl friends during her nomadic brief existence, begins to settle in and enjoy her new life and new school.

After her first full year of attending traditional grade school, during her summer break, her parents return her to their previous life of travel and insect exploration. After a four-month absence, Elaine returns home to her friends for the next school year.

Upon her return, Elaine finds the dynamic of her group has been altered with the addition of the new girl, Cordelia. Elaine is first drawn in by Cordelia but after a period, sensing her inability to recognize the cruelty, Elaine is bullied by the three girls, her supposed “best friends.”

After mostly destroying any self-esteem Elaine has developed in her new life, she gradually becomes depressed and feels helpless unable to stand up to them or rescue herself. She continually complies with the demeaning demands of the group and considers the worst transgression she could ever commit would be to tattle on her “friends,” a sick loyalty Cordelia nurtures and feeds. Elaine, despite her parent’s concern, even accompanies Grace and her family to their church which, to her amazement and curiosity, is Elaine’s first exposure to mainstream religion. Her newly found faith is tested when she continues to be poorly treated, even by Grace’s mother…