Posted by on April 16, 2019 6:45 am
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Categories: µ Newsjones

As we approach the novel’s 30th anniversary, it’s hard to think of many characters who have endured pain like Atwood’s Elaine

One of the first things you notice when embarking on the unsettling experience of reading Cat’s Eye is that its narrator, Elaine, is herself unusually observant. Her memories of her messed-up childhood are more than vivid. On the first page, she remembers her brother studying while standing on his head (he claims that this will make the blood run down into his brain and nourish it), while wearing his “ravelling maroon sweater”. We are introduced to Elaine’s teenage friend Cordelia, who has “grey-green eyes, opaque and glinting as metal”. Cordelia is on a streetcar with Elaine and they wear: “long wool coats, with tie belts, the collars turned up to look like those of movie stars and rubber boots with the tops folded down and men’s work socks inside. In our pockets are stuffed the kerchiefs our mothers make us wear, but that we take off as soon as we’re out of their sight … Our mouths are tough, crayon red, shiny as nails.”

And on it goes: everything about the way people look and present themselves is precisely rendered and catalogued. The smells Atwood describes are especially evocative: that streetcar “is muggy with twice-breathed air and the smell of wool”; Stephen “smells of peppermint LifeSavers” over his usual scent of “cedarwood pencils and wet sand; the alcohol her entomologist father uses in his work “smells like white enamel basins”. As Elaine even tells us, with typical wryness: “We remember through smells, like dogs do.”

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