Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cat of Colette

I’m not very fond of cats and the title of this book, which has a slightly sinister feel to it, filled me with foreboding. This cat, I thought as I settled down to read, is going to create trouble.

The Cat revolves around three characters; Alain, his Chartreux Saha and Camille, his fiancĂ©e. They are stuck in a sort of love triangle as the females, cat and woman, vie for Alain’s unconditional love.

In Saha, Colette has created a very strong character. She is an intelligent creature who has very distinct likes and dislikes. Her features, especially her yellow eyes, are extremely expressive, ‘those deep set eyes were proud and suspicious, completely masters of themselves’. She knows her mind and more importantly, she knows her master’s mind. Being extremely close to Alain, she dislikes Camille who reciprocates the feeling and considers the cat her rival, especially after their marriage.

‘Oh! The alterations! Don’t tell me you’re interested in those alterations! Admit’ – she folded her arms like a tragic actress – ‘admit that you’re going to see my rival!’

‘Saha’s not your rival,’ said Alain simply. ‘How can she be your rival,’ he went on to himself. ‘You can only have rivals in what’s impure’.

Alain, being an only child, is spoiled and pampered by his mother and the elderly servants.   He cherishes his solitude to an extent where the thought of sharing his childhood home with Camille is sacrilegious. His obsession with his garden, his bedroom and his cat borders on madness; he thinks more about the cat’s feelings than his wife.

The relationship between husband and wife is almost non-existent. ‘It was towards the end of June that incompatibility became established between them like a new season of the year’. Except for their love making there is, otherwise, a void between them. He is scared and a little disgusted with his wife’s amorous advances and sexual needs. Even though he admires her boldness and her beauty, he finds his cat a more attractive partner.

By the end of the story, it is not just the cat you hate, but Alain too. Attached to his mama’s strings, he refuses to grow up and accept his responsibilities as a married man. Saha, like the garden and house, is an embodiment of his childhood. And since Camille was not a part of it then, she is not welcome now.

Colette is best known for her novel Gigi (currently on my reading list) but The Cat is an enjoyable read also. The details of the cat; her thoughts, her expressions, her movements, her reactions were almost a revelation to a non-cat person like me.

Colette, too, owned a Chartreux called “La Chatte” (she-cat). 

"The cat is the animal to whom the Creator gave the biggest eye, the softest fur, the most supremely delicate nostrils, a mobile ear, an unrivalled paw and a curved claw borrowed from the rose tree." (Colette)

Photograph: Google Images