Cat's Eye was published in Toronto in 1988 and was the ninth novel by Margaret Atwood, one of Canada's most acclaimed writers of fiction and poetry. It is about a successful painter, Elaine Risley, who returns to Toronto, the city where she grew up, for a retrospective of her work at a gallery named Sub-Versions. Risley is trying to come to terms with being fifty. She must also grapple with disturbing memories from her childhood, and much of the novel consists of Risley's narration of this period in her life. At the core of Risley's story is the cruelty she suffered as a young girl at the hands of her three best friends, particularly a girl named Cordelia. This teasing shatters Risley's self-esteem and leads her to adopt neurotic habits, such as peeling her skin, biting her nails, and pulling her hair.
In exploring the world of childhood female friendships, Atwood broke new ground. Never before had the world of eight- to twelve-year-old girls been examined so thoroughly and with such unflinching insight.
The novel also explores the nature of memory and identity, since Risley is aware of how unreliable memory can be, and how our experience of the present is colored by past events. The nature of artistic creativity is another theme, as Risley discovers her vocation as a painter. Finally, the novel provides a vivid picture of Toronto in the 1940s and 1950s, and shows how dramatically the city had changed by the 1980s.
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