You know me. I can’t resist anything with the word cat in the title. My own pussycat, now sitting on my lap, in the minute space between me and the computer, can’t either. This fixation has had us read/watch all manner of rubbish. Making the Cat Laugh is another of Lynne Truss’s titles; I must get hold of it immediately.
The blurb on the back cover of Cat Out of Hell is beguiling.
Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat…
The man clears his throat, leans forward, expectant.
‘Shall we begin?’ says the cat…
However, any preconceptions I might’ve had about talking animals being soft and fluffy are soon to dispelled. In every other sense, this novel falls into the comic horror genre – or perhaps just horror – as it concerns men and cats working together to commune with the devil. It was first published in 2014 by Arrow Books in association with Hammer – as in Hammer Horror.
When retired librarian, Alec Charlesworth, takes a break in Norfolk, following the death of his wife, he finds himself sharing his holiday cottage with a talking cat, Roger, a nine-lifer destined to live for ever. Alec is also in receipt of some unusual computer files, sent by colleague, Dr Winterton, concerning Roger and someone else (unknown to Alec Charlesworth) called Wiggy, who has just been arrested in connection with his sister’s death. As you can see, the plot is already involved and the first part, where Alec is largely looking at computer files, is difficult to follow, but Lynne cleverly uses a clunky and disjointed style and structure to show Alec’s distraught state of mind. When Alec returns home to Cambridge, the catalogue of harm wreaked by the nine-lifers moves with him, but he cannot bring himself to discuss a cat who talks with anyone else. He has difficulty believing it himself. The tension mounts when Alec eventually commits and goes to Dorset to make his own investigations and here things get properly sinister, although the amount of actual blood and gore and ghostliness is minimal, but Roger mentioning things things done to kittens really pressed my buttons.
Cat Out of Hell is available, from American publisher, Melville House or from Lynne’s author website. Do I recommend, Dear Reader? Yes, although it is one of those books you have to finish before you appreciate it. Even though there was plenty going on throughout, the middle stalls; even though, at this point, several hooks are being laid, the thread that should have been holding it together became very thin. Although the human characters were not distinct – too many middle-aged male academics and librarians – the cats had panache and attitude. Anthropomorphism is one of the things writers are advised to leave alone, but Lynne proved that it could be done, and in a book for adults.
All this brings me back to my own darling cat, Clarabel, who insists on climbing on to my lap whenever I use my laptop. First, she walks across in front of me and over the keyboard, activating (mostly) right click menus, which I have to cancel using the escape key, but it destroys my flow. For about ten minutes, she stands, so I have to work around this furry obstacle in front of me, and, although I try I push her into a sitting position, her bottom rides up again. Eventually, she will sit, but then she nuzzles my jumper, so I have to roll up my sleeve. And she malts fur all over my keyboard. Why do I put up with it? My husband asks why I don’t ‘just put her down’, but, if I do, she climbs back up and starts all over again. The thing is she’s old and she’s so happy on my knee, purring like a little motorbike.