Atwood, Austen and a month of romance

Okay, so this is the 3rd revision on this post. (I’m forming an “L” with my forefinger and thumb and holding it against my forehead.)

Along with Atwood’s essays on writing, I finished Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. I enjoyed the book, but did not love it. I feel bad saying that. I feel like a jughead saying that. I don’t feel particularly literate.

Don’t get me wrong: The prose is exquisite. Every paragraph is a jewel, every chapter a collection. But at the end, a pattern didn’t emerge, a story wasn’t told. I was left with a handful of jewels.

The title refers to a certain kind of marble, an unordinary type, a prize that needs to be won:

The cat’s eyes are my favorites. If I win a new one I wait until I’m by myself, then take it out and examine it, turning it over and over in the light. The cat’s eyes really are like eyes, but not the eyes of cats. They’re the eyes of something that isn’t known but exists anyway; like the green eye of the radio; like the eyes of aliens from a distant planet. My favorite one is blue. I put it into my red plastic purse to keep it safe. I risk my other cat’s eyes to be shot at, but not this one.

Secrets – what is seen but not acknowledged, known but not discussed – seem to me to be at the heart of the novel; this paragraph, addressing an illegal abortion, emerged as the most sinister and deadly in a series of secrets observed or experienced by the narrator:

But what she’s done has set her apart. It belongs to the submerged landscape of the things that are never said, which lies beneath ordinary speech like hills under water. Everyone my age knows about it. Nobody discusses it. Rumors are down there, kitchen tables, money exchanged in secret; evil old women, illegal doctors, disgrace and butchery. Down there is terror.

Cat’s Eye also, finally, refers to self-portrait painted by the narrator. This is just one of many references to sight and seeing — and Shakespeare’s three witches and colors and symbols and metaphors galore. Heaps of ’em. A glut.

I think I am tired, tired in a profound and ground-down sort of way. Must*recover*soon.

I’m glad I read Cat’s Eye; I want to read more Atwood. But it was difficult to live with the peculiarly deadened tone and postmodern plotless plot for 461 pages.

Time to ditch heavy reading! In California, spring is in the air. Yellow daisies are blooming, some California poppies are already spreading their bright orange petals, and around twilight, a certain tree in Berkeley smells like gardenias dancing with honeysuckle. A little romance is in order.

So it was with a sort of stepping-off-the-treadmill relief that I turned to Jane Austen for my first book in a precious month of romantic reads. I initially selected Mansfield Park, but, as the introduction claimed it to be the “least popular” of Austen’s books, I immediately scuttled that in favor of Persuasion, which I finished over the weekend (along with half of a biography, Jane Austen by Claire Tomalin). These books, along with a bar of expensive chocolate and the studious ignoring of SuperBowl MXCMVI, initiated the lovefest in proper fashion.

I picked up a Victorian Oxford Classic on a bookstore dollar cart – can’t remember the title or author, but I do recall the words “violin,” “Victorian Paris,” and “affair” in the descriptor text. I think I’m in love already.

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12 Responses to Atwood, Austen and a month of romance

  1. Carl V. says:

    Glad you’re getting into the spirit of the month. I plan on finishing Pride and Prejudice for one of my reads this month followed by the watching of (hopefully) both of the more recent film versions which I love for different reasons.

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  2. Andi says:

    I recently picked up a nicer copy of Cat’s Eye (trade paperback as opposed to the old tattered mass market I had before), so maybe I’ll actually pick it up soon.

    My favorite of hers thus far is The Robber Bride. Breathtaking story, and I particularly love her allusions to folk and fairy tales. I’m team teaching an Introduction to Children’s Lit course and we’re doing fairy tales at the moment. I think we’re reading Atwood’s “Bluebeard’s Egg” in the near future.

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  3. LK says:

    Hey, Carl V., how’s it going? I loved the Keira Knightly version of P&P, much to my surprise.

    Andi, I just posted a third time, because I feel sort of bad about not being in love with Cat’s Eye. Maybe I will try The Robber Bride. I also have Blind Assasin. Haven’t given up on Atwood by a long shot! Thanks for te comment.

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  4. charlotte says:

    Ooh, that mention of spring in California sounds too good to be true. In DLand we still have grey rain and cold. However, inspired by you, I think I need some romance in my life and am going to seek out Anna Karenina at the bookshop this afternoon.

    As for the lovely Ms Atwood, my favourites are the Blind Assassin and Oryx and Crake, which is wonderful dystopian fiction. Glad you’re not giving up …

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  5. iliana says:

    My favorite Atwood is Handmaid’s Tale probably followed by Alias Grace. Now what is this Victorian Oxford classic? I already like it just from the title 🙂

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  6. Pauline says:

    “I enjoyed the book, but did not love it. I feel bad saying that.”

    You shouldn’t be so harsh on yourself LK. We all read books we don’t feel like raving about. But maybe you should try another Atwood in a while, to get another impression.

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  7. LK says:

    Charlotte — I know, we are sooo lucky. Anna K is one of my all-time faves, go for it. And no, I’m not giving up on Atwood. I did love her prose, beautiful.

    Iliana, definitely going to read more of Atwood. The book I referred to is Trilby by George DuMaurier (uncle? to Daphne) — more on a future post. Apparently was the DaVinci Code of its time.

    Pauline, you are right, darn it. Thank you!

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  8. I personally am not a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and imagine how guilty I feel saying that as a Canadian!

    Heather
    http://www.thelibraryladder.blogspot.com

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  9. litlove says:

    There’s never any need to feel guilty about not loving a book. It just wasn’t your time to be together – doesn’t make you or the book any less valuable. A month of romance sounds delightful, however, and no one better to kick off with than Jane. She never disappoints. Oh and I know what you mean about feeling tired – this time of year always makes me feel just grotty.

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  10. Dorothy W. says:

    Yay for Jane Austen! I agree with Litlove — she never disappointments; she’s the perfect pick-me-up after a disappointing book.

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  11. danielle says:

    I loved Persuasion–I just recently read it too. Have fun reading Jane this month!! Your Victorian classic sounds like fun–you’ll have to tell us more! And by the way…did you have to rub it in about Spring??? It is frigidly cold here in Nebraska…and I am so tired of it!

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  12. LK says:

    I hereby apologize to all in more frigid climes than California. But, I hold out the hope to you: Spring is in the air, somewhere in the world, it is, it is.

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