Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye

4.0 42
by Margaret Atwood

See All Formats & Editions

Cat's Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms


Cat's Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman—but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, Cat's Eye is a breathtaking novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knot of her life.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
YA-- When Elaine Risley returns to her hometown, Toronto, for a retrospective show of her paintings, she finds more than critical acclaim. Local streets, long-gone landmarks, and elements in the paintings themselves trigger memories of her transient childhood traveling across Canada with her entomologist father; of adolescence marred by the cruel teasing of three friends; and of love affairs with her first art teacher and mentor, and with Jon, her first husband. In addition, Elaine is haunted by thoughts of her chief tormentor/best friend, Cordelia, whom she last saw years ago in a mental institution. Atwood's focus on the inner landscape of Elaine's youth and early adult years will appeal to older teenagers.
Caryn James
A poet as well as a novelist, Ms. Atwood enlivens mundane details, creating sharp images with language that is never precious. . . .Ms. Atwood's power to sweep her reader along has never been stronger than in Cat's Eye. . .
The New York Times
From the Publisher
"A brilliant, three-dimensional mosaic... the story of Elaine's childhood... is so real and heartbreaking you want to stand up in your seat and cheer."—The Boston Sunday Globe.

"A haunting work of art."—Time.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)
850L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt


Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once.

It was my brother Stephen who told me that, when he wore his raveling maroon sweater to study in and spent a lot of time standing on his head so that the blood would run down into his brain and nourish it. I didn’t understand what he meant, but maybe he didn’t explain it very well. He was already moving away from the imprecision of words.

But I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.


“Stephen says time is not a line,” I say. Cordelia rolls her eyes, as I knew she would.

“So?” she says. This answer pleases both of us. It puts the nature of time in its place, and also Stephen, who calls us “the teenagers,” as if he himself is not one. Cordelia and I are riding on the streetcar, going downtown, as we do on winter Saturdays. The streetcar is muggy with twice-breathed air and the smell of wool. Cordelia sits with nonchalance, nudging me with her elbow now and then, staring blankly at the other people with her gray-green eyes, opaque and glinting as metal. She can outstare anyone, and I am almost as good. We’re impervious, we scintillate, we are thirteen.

We 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. We scorn head coverings. Our mouths are tough, crayon-red, shiny as nails. We think we are friends.

On the streetcars there are always old ladies, or we think of them as old. They’re of various kinds. Some are respectably dressed, in tailored Harris tweed coats and matching gloves and tidy no-nonsense hats with small brisk feathers jauntily at one side. Others are poorer and foreign-looking and have dark shawls wound over their heads and around their shoulders. Others are bulgy, dumpy, with clamped self-righteous mouths, their arms festooned with shopping bags; these we associate with sales, with bargain basements. Cordelia can tell cheap cloth at a glance. “Gabardine,” she says. “Ticky-tack.”

Then there are the ones who have not resigned themselves, who still try for an effect of glamour. There aren’t many of these, but they stand out. They wear scarlet outfits or purple ones, and dangly earrings, and hats that look like stage props. Their slips show at the bottoms of their skirts, slips of unusual, suggestive colors. Anything other than white is suggestive. They have hair dyed straw-blond or baby-blue, or, even more startling against their papery skins, a lusterless old-fur-coat black. Their lipstick mouths are too big around their mouths, their rouge blotchy, their eyes drawn screw-jiggy around their real eyes. These are the ones most likely to talk to themselves. There’s one who says “mutton, mutton,” over and over again like a song, another who pokes at our legs with her umbrella and says “bare naked.”

This is the kind we like best. They have a certain gaiety to them, a power of invention, they don’t care what people think. They have escaped, though what it is they’ve escaped from isn’t clear to us. We think that their bizarre costumes, their verbal tics, are chosen, and that when the time comes we also will be free to choose.

“That’s what I’m going to be like,” says Cordelia. “Only I’m going to have a yappy Pekinese, and chase kids off my lawn. I’m going to have a shepherd’s crook.”

“I’m going to have a pet iguana,” I say, “and wear nothing but cerise.” It’s a word I have recently learned.


Now I think, what if they just couldn’t see what they looked like? Maybe it was as simple as that: eye problems. I’m having that trouble myself now: too close to the mirror and I’m a blur, too far back and I can’t see the details. Who knows what faces I’m making, what kind of modern art I’m drawing onto myself? Even when I’ve got the distance adjusted, I vary. I am transitional; some days I look like a worn-out thirty-five, others like a sprightly fifty. So much depends on the light, and the way you squint.

I eat in pink restaurants, which are better for the skin. Yellow ones turn you yellow. I actually spend time thinking about this. Vanity is becoming a nuisance; I can see why women give it up, eventually. But I’m not ready for that yet.

Lately I’ve caught myself humming out loud, or walking along the street with my mouth slightly open, drooling a little. Only a little; but it may be the thin edge of the wedge, the crack in the wall that will open, later, onto what? What vistas of shining eccentricity, or madness?

There is no one I would ever tell this to, except Cordelia. But which Cordelia? The one I have conjured up, the one with the rolltop boots and the turned-up collar, or the one before, or the one after? There is never only one, of anyone.

If I were to meet Cordelia again, what would I tell her about myself? The truth, or whatever would make me look good?

Probably the latter. I still have that need.

I haven’t seen her for a long time. I wasn’t expecting to see her. But now that I’m back here I can hardly walk down a street without a glimpse of her, turning a comer, entering a door. It goes without saying that these fragments of her-a shoulder, beige, camel’s-hair, the side of a face, the back of a leg-belong to women who, seen whole, are not Cordelia.

I have no idea what she would look like now. Is she fat, have her breasts sagged, does she have little gray hairs at the comers of her mouth? Unlikely: she would pull them out. Does she wear glasses with fashionable frames, has she had her lids lifted, does she streak or tint? All of these things are possible: we’ve both reached that borderline age, that buffer zone in which it can still be believed such tricks will work if you avoid bright sunlight.

I think of Cordelia examining the growing pouches under her eyes, the skin, up close, loosened and crinkled like elbows. She sighs, pats in cream, which is the right kind. Cordelia would know the right kind. She takes stock of her hands, which are shrinking a little, warping a little, as mine are. Gnarling has set in, the withering of the mouth; the outlines of dewlaps are beginning to be visible, down toward the chin, in the dark glass of subway windows. Nobody else notices these things yet, unless they look closely; but Cordelia and I are in the habit of looking closely.

She drops the bath towel, which is green, a muted sea-green to match her eyes, looks over her shoulder, sees in the mirror the dog’s-neck folds of skin above the waist, the buttocks drooping like wattles, and, turning, the dried fern of hair. I think of her in a sweatsuit, sea-green as well, working out in some gym or other, sweating like a pig. I know what she would say about this, about all of this. How we giggled, with repugnance and delight, when we found the wax her older sisters used on their legs, congealed in a little pot, stuck full-of bristles. The grotesqueries of the body were always of interest to her.

I think of encountering her without warning. Perhaps in a worn coat and a knitted hat like a tea cosy, sitting on a curb, with two plastic bags filled with her only possessions, muttering to herself. Cordelia! Don’t you recognize me? I say. And she does, but pretends not to. She gets up and shambles away on swollen-feet, old socks poking through the holes in her rubber boots, glancing back over her shoulder.

There’s some satisfaction in that, more in worse things. I watch from a window, or a balcony so I can see better, as some man chases Cordelia along the sidewalk below me, catches up with her, punches her in the ribs—I can’t handle the face—throws her down. But I can’t go any farther.

Better to switch to an oxygen tent. Cordelia is unconscious. I have been summoned, too late, to her hospital bedside. There are flowers, sickly smelling, wilting in a vase, tubes going into her arms and nose, the sound of terminal breathing. I hold her hand. Her face is puffy, white, like an unbaked biscuit, with yellowish circles under the closed eyes. Her eyelids don’t flicker but there’s a faint twitching of her fingers, or do I imagine it? I sit there wondering whether to pull the tubes out of her arms, the plug out of the wall. No brain activity, the doctors say. Am I crying? And who would have summoned me?

Even better: an iron lung. I’ve never seen an iron lung, but the newspapers had pictures of children in iron lungs, back when people still got polio. These pictures-the iron lung a cylinder, a gigantic sausageroll of metal, with a head sticking out one end of it, always a girl’s head, the hair flowing across the pillow, the eyes large, nocturnal-fascinated me, more than stories about children who went out on thin ice and fell through and were drowned, or children who played on the railroad tracks and had their arms and legs cut off by trains. You could get polio without knowing how or where, end up in an iron lung without knowing why. Something you breathed in or ate, or picked up from the dirty money other people had touched. You never knew.

The iron lungs were used to frighten us, and as reasons why we couldn’t do things we wanted to. No public swimming pools, no crowds in summer. Do you want to spend the rest of your life in an iron lung? they would say. A stupid question; though for me such a life, with its inertia and pity, had its secret attractions.

Cordelia in an iron lung, then, being breathed, as an aceordian is played. A mechanical wheezing sound comes from around her. She is fully conscious, but unable to move or speak. I come into the room, moving, speaking. Our eyes meet.

Meet the Author

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa in 1939, and grew up in northern Quebec and Ontario, and later in Toronto. She has lived in numerous cities in Canada, the U.S., and Europe.

She is the author of more than forty books — novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. Atwood’s work is acclaimed internationally and has been published around the world. Her novels include The Handmaid’s Tale and Cat’s Eye — both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Robber Bride, winner of the Trillium Book Award and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award; Alias Grace, winner of the prestigious Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, the Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize and a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and Oryx and Crake, a finalist for The Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Orange Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent books of fiction are The Penelopiad, The Tent, and Moral Disorder. She is the recipient of numerous honours, such as The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence in the U.K., the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature in the U.S., Le Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and she was the first winner of the London Literary Prize. She has received honorary degrees from universities across Canada, and one from Oxford University in England.

Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson.

Brief Biography

Toronto, Ontario
Date of Birth:
November 18, 1939
Place of Birth:
Ottawa, Ontario
B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Cat's Eye 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought that cat's eye was a marvellous book. it perfectly portrays the truth about young girls and the subtlety of their power games. I also thought this book had deep psychological undertones and if you dont concentrate you wont get the whole picture. Atwood has no trouble in engaging the reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great blend of science, art and chatacters to care for as the reflection occur I am grateful to be reading this at fifty or much would be blurred She writes paintings you can see and smell that linger on tje page Thank you for an inspiring that has given rise to forgive
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never before has the pain and laughter of childhood been illustrated with such unique and yet accurate detail, at least for this reader. Atwood¿s writing is impeccable as she weaves a past-and-present story with fluidity and style, and ingeniously blends dark humor into serious themes. The novel is both poignant and bitingly funny, thanks to Atwood¿s insight, wit, and her ability to create characters who are hauntingly alive. An outstanding reflection on the consequences of human behavior.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
"Cat's Eye" by Margaret Atwood is about Elaine Risley who is an aging artist, and, similar to "A Prayer for Owen Meany," takes place when she is older and describes her childhood and experiences with a small group of girls, mainly focusing on the "friend" Cordelia. Elaine grew up in a less than conventional way, with a father who studied bugs and would have the family on the road often. Elaine finally was able to make friends (besides with her older brother, Stephen) when she was eight years old and moved to Toronto. The group of girls she became friends with, led by Cordelia, began to bully Elaine. Elaine was a pushover but did eventually gain some guts. I'll leave it at that since I don't want to give too much away. Another similarity to "A Prayer for Owen Meany" occurs when Elaine experiences a near-death experience and is rescued by, who she perceives is the Virgin Mary. In general, "Cat's Eye" stays farther away from religious topics than "A Prayer for Owen Meany." As Elaine grows up, she becomes a stronger individual and we learn about her love life, her children, and her moderately successful career as a painter. This could probably be a mini spoiler alert, so don't finish this paragraph if you want to read the book yourself! I really did enjoy following Elaine's journey through her life, and with her relationships with her family, boyfriend, husband, and on to being a painter. However, I don't really understand the ending. Maybe I'm missing something, but to me, it was a well-written, interesting story about Elaine's trip to Toronto, while in the midst of this Toronto trip, she explains about her childhood. The book begins with her trip to Toronto and ends with her plane ride home. Usually I would not recommend a book where I didn't like the ending, or where I thought the ending was lackluster. But I honestly did enjoy the book, just was unsatisfied with the ending.
LillyParksONBooks More than 1 year ago
Another great story from Margaret
Guest More than 1 year ago
Notice the simularities between this novel and 'The Bell Jar' Sylvia Plath. Also references to King Lear (Cordelia, Perdie, Mirrie) and Macbeth. Much sybolism relating to twins, lenses, mirors and eyes. Mrs Smeath, Grace, her sisters, Aunt Mildred and Mrs Lumley all wear glasses..are they short sighted?? Throughly enjoyable, although i found the paintings a little confusing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cat¿s Eye: girl on the run This novel reminded me of Girl Interrupted. Elaine, the protagonist, could be Susanna, and her school age ¿friend,¿ Cordelia¿Lisa. Elaine is a fiftyish female (don¿t call me an artist) painter: twice married, mother of two, with a very rich interior life that drives her to the brink of insanity. Susanna, in Susanna Kaysen¿s memoir, was diagnosed as having a borderline personality, and Lisa as having an anti-social personality. The labels fit Atwood¿s characters. The heroine says she was a happy girl until she moved to Toronto at the age of nine, where she attaches herself to the very charismatic Cordelia, who subsequently buries alive her neurotic ¿friend.¿ When Cordelia abandons Elaine in a frozen creek, leaving her for dead¿Elaine breaks the spell, and moves towards independence. She continues this quest for freedom throughout her life¿rejecting God, and her father¿s script for her (that of a scientist) for that of The Artist (painter). What about Mother? She rejects that role, too, of complicit housewife. Elaine, throughout, struggles for freedom and identity, but lands in a world of alienation and confusion, fertile ground for an artist. Predictably, she is seduced by her ¿Life Drawing¿ professor, but throws him off, only to attach herself to a wild, polygamous, peer artist who impregnates her. Unable to communicate other than through her painting, Elaine listens to an ethereal voice and attempts to kill herself, cutting her wrists with her husband¿s Exacto knife. By chance (?), Elaine catches a break when her socially egregious paintings elicit outrage from the community, thus ¿arriving¿ as an artist. This allows her to ditch her eccentric (now) husband and flee to Vancouver to start over. Having applied the ubiquitous geographic cure to no avail, Elaine tries the talking cure¿but she can¿t talk about, or remember, her childhood, which the shrink thinks holds the key. Throughout this disjointed journey, Atwood treats us to the fascinating dream world, adventures and musings of Elaine, who it seems, suffers from identity confusion and concludes that those who care¿lose¿so it is far better to remain unaffiliated. I find interesting Atwood¿s suggestion that perhaps it¿s the names people are given that determines their fate. Elaine wonders if Cordelia had had a different name, she might have fared better. In a later novel, Atwood repeats this premise, having her female characters intentionally change their names to better suit who they think they are, or want to be. In Cat¿s Eye, Elaine¿s brother, who she worships, is named Stephen (the first Christian martyr) and is murdered by terrorists. I wonder ¿ Margaret is a name of many names ¿ and Atwood, who uses the pseudonym O.W. Toad ¿ might just be on to something. This is fiction at its finest.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After re-reading catseye, 2 years on from my original school project, I found that it is still as interesting and intricate the second time around. Although it has quite a slow start, he story progresses evenly, without leaving pockets of confusion in the readers mind or dwelling for too long on a given subject. Characters are well developed and Atwood could easily write a complimentary novel about Cordelia's life and side of the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All in all, it wasn't bad... but it wasn't good either. I felt that her childhood experiences were compelling-- pathos was felt for the characters. The character change, the power change in Cordelia and in Elaine, was interesting, but I felt that much more explination was needed and that the ending was a dissapointment. Not bad, but not good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for a project.After talking about it with the group I was working with I found out the only people that really liked this book were those that were into art. I didn't like it at all but hey, that's just my opinion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought Cat's Euye was an excellent book, to which many can relate. Although the beginning is a bit slow and hard to get into, towards the middle, you won't want to put the book down. I felt that the events occurring during Elaine's childhood are depicted without exageration, having experienced similar treatment myself. A compelling, suspenseful read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cat's eye is confusing at the beginning, but once the reader gets into the story, he/she is bound to love it. The writing technique and skills are amazing. The author manages to refer to both the present and the past without losing the atmospere. I just loved the book. The relationships between women are very detailed and realistic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ariel if shes your sister take her. I wanted them to have freedom.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lgallucci More than 1 year ago
Wonderful in capturing the plan of childhood and the resilience of the human spirit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most depressing stories I've read. I feel like I waisted two days trying to get through a visit from a guest I wished would leave. If I could travel back in time I would not have purchased this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago