The Cat by Collete

Feline magic is pared with tense marital complexity in a unique and engaging novella.

I apologise now for my recent Colette overload but you see ever since discovering Gigi I have been infatuated and desperate for more fixes of this fantastic writer.

Luckily my copy of Gigi also came with the short story The Cat.

The Cat is quite unlike Gigi in many ways and for that reason I did at first struggle to get into the story. There is a far more somber tone in this book. The Cat is a story about a love triangle between a recently married couple and the young grooms cat.

We first meet the couple, Alain and Camille a week before their marriage. While the young bride seems excitable and optimistic, Alain, whose perspective the story is told through, is more apprehensive and hesitant.

In fact to say Alain is hesitant may be an understatement as he battles with a mixture of lust and repulsion for his soon to be bride. Alain understands he must marry and so tries to encourage his own senses to be more inclined to Camille but it is with rather amusing irony that Colette portrays his rising anxiety.

Colette explores and portrays the range of disturbing and terrifying emotions that any soon to be married couple can experience and it is this fear that lends a darker, more heavy tone. The light relief for me was in the form of Saha, Alain’s beloved cat.

Now I’m a huge lover of cats, but many people may feel the complete opposite and I’m not sure how people disinclined towards cats will find this book. You see Alain is quite literally enthralled with Saha. The two have a beautiful bond of unspoken and unlimited affection for one another. They communicate through gestures and actions and unbridled commitment.

Camille, desperate to be an attractive and desirable bride is naturally perturbed by what seems to be a un-healthy obsession with Saha. How can she compete with a cat that he so clearly adores? Alain’s feelings only worsen after marriage and it is as though he can’t bear the reality of marriage and the fact that he will lose so much control over his personal life and sense of self.

Saha seems to be his one connection to his old self and a part of the man he was before marriage. When Alain realizes that he cannot be parted from his adored Saha he moves her into the marital home and it is with humour and wit that Colette describes a scenario that feels more like a three person marriage than anything else.

I won’t spoil the ending but needless to say Camille desperately struggles with Alain’s infatuation of Saha. I’m not sure whose side Collete is writing from but it seemed to be me that she was more sympathetically inclined towards Alain and Saha.

What worked wonderfully for me were the descriptions of Saha, Colette understands the movements and characteristics of our feline friends very well and this comes across with winning results in the book. Like all cats they have their own individual personalities and Saha is no exception, she refuses to be cast aside by marriage and has all the haughty huffs and sulks of a jealous lover.

This combined with Alain’s hesitations and doubts made for a read that was acutely in tune with our basic human emotions but that was also elevated with a sense of individuality and uniqueness thanks to the addition of Saha.

The book also got me thinking about other animals in books and how writers symbolically use them in books . Murakhami often features cats within his work and Yan Martel famously used a whole array of animals in The Life Of Pi in order to portray family life.

What books have you read that heavily featured animals and enhanced a story? Have you read The Cat, if so did you enjoy it?

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