(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Cat is a short novel about the rapid decline of a marriage. Both the young people involved, Alain Amparat and Camille Malmert, come from prosperous manufacturing families. The novel opens a week before the wedding at Alain’s spacious but run-down old house at Neuilly, where he lives with his widowed mother and some ancient servants. Part of the house is being converted and modernized for the young couple. Until it is ready, however, they plan to live in a small studio at the top of a new nine-story apartment block. The apartment, lent to them by a friend, conforms to Camille’s taste for everything up-to-date, but it offends Alain’s fastidious and conservative nature.

It soon becomes evident that although Alain and Camille are physically attracted to each other, their engagement has more to do with family expectations than with a meeting of minds. Alain watches Camille nervously and is privately critical of her uninhibited manners and loud voice. He finds solace in the company of his beloved cat, Saha, a magnificent Russian Blue.

On the morning after the wedding, Alain, waking up in the ultramodern studio bedroom, is embarrassed to see Camille flitting about in the nude. He is nonplussed when she counters that he, too, is nude above the waist. This small incident is an early portent of the gap which is to widen between them. Later that day, Alain returns to Neuilly under the pretext of checking the building’s progress. Camille teasingly accuses him of going to visit her rival, the cat. Taking her seriously, Alain protests that Saha cannot be her rival because there is nothing “impure” about his relationship with it.

During the hot summer months, they make love frequently, always at Camille’s initiative. Alain becomes revolted by her open sensuality and longs for the sheltered security of his childhood home and for his cat, which is pining for him at Neuilly. Camille is annoyed when he brings the cat to live at the cramped top-floor apartment. Alain,...

(The entire section is 822 words.)