Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: The Cat Did It by Claude Beccai

This is the story of a year in the life of Clara, a seventy-something-year-old woman, widowed, living alone, struggling to make ends meet. It tells how her life is changed by the arrival of a cat on her doorstep. The cat, not so very important in itself, is the catalyst that brings into Clara's life a crowd of new people, and triggers a series of events, some dramatic, some not so. There are elements of the thriller, the crime novel and the real life drama here, although the novel does not finally settle into one genre rather than another.

There is something very endearing about Clara. The story is told in the first person and largely in the present tense, from her point of view. The reader is invited into her inner life and struggles, as well as to witness the events which crowd this year of her life. She is a spunky, courageous, slightly unconventional woman, who enjoys her solitude, but, ultimately, comes to value the unusual people that the cat, directly or indirectly, introduces into her life. There is Cynthia, the aging, wealthy many-times married socialite, and Mackey, her equally aging gay friend. There is Tony, a sophisticated business man, whose business is mostly illegal and somewhat dangerous. There is Robin, the hapless son of Clara's late husband, of whose existence she previously had no knowledge. And there is the Native American family, mother, father and two children, together with their other relatives, who adopt Clara as their own.

During this year Clara witnesses a gangland shooting, becomes a 'mule' within Tony's organisation, and finds herself the recipient of unexpected financial resources from a variety of sources. Clara's narration of these events and the insights she gains into herself are told with a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour. The story itself relies a little too much on coincidence for my taste. It loses steam in places. I was also unconvinced by the way in which Clara became so trusting of certain people so quickly. There is a slightly chaotic and seemingly random element to the narrative at times, which could be explained in terms of the narrator's personality, but I suspect is related more to that of the author. While this chaos worked well sometimes, there were occasions when more discipline would have helped the telling of the story. There is a kind of stream of consciousness which needed to be reined in from time to time. The story needed more structure and discipline in the telling. Sometimes the words seem to be rushing onto the page. Grammatically this is reflected in numerous run-on sentences and comma splices. I think that some of the typographical errors might also be attributed to this uncontrolled gushing forth. There were, overall, too many grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors in the book. I gather that the author's first language is French rather than English, so this may account for some of the errors.

In summary I was impressed by the enthusiasm and energy of the writing, reflected also in the character of Clara, but this was marred sometimes by a lack of discipline and structure: the balance was just not quite right. I give The Cat Did It three stars.

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