Josie and I recently read a book that we both liked, but probably for different reasons. I believe she intends to post a review on Goodreads, but I don’t have a Goodreads account (I suspect you have to be a human to get one, which in my opinion is grossly unfair), so I thought I would beat her to the punch by posting my review here on
her our blog.
The book was called The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery. As soon as I saw her getting her iPad out, I ran over and strategically positioned myself on her lap in order to read along with her. Being a cat, I don’t have the luxury of going to the library or bookstore or downloading eBooks of my choice, so I must wait until Josie starts one. Personally, I wanted to read Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, but I was bored and in no position to be choosy, so I cozied up to Josie and unsuspectingly, nonchalantly began to read. A cat must maintain this attitude if she is to avoid being condescended to. Otherwise it’s a lot of, “Oh, how cute…look at her…she thinks she’s reading!” It is not to be endured!
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
At first blush, The Blue Castle is a story not unlike most of the stories Josie likes to read. It is about an unmarried girl named Valancy Stirling. She is what you humans would unkindly refer to as an old maid. We cats have no such term.
Valancy lives in a rather shabby brick house with her mean widowed mother and an equally mean widowed cousin. Things are bleak for Valancy, but from the picture on the cover, it seems a foregone conclusion that at some point in this story she is going to find LOVE and then she is going to live happily ever after. That was fine with me. I’m not devoid of feeling. I’m not anti-love. I love chicken, tuna…and okay, I admit it, I love Josie (don’t tell her I said that, I wouldn’t want her to get smug).
In the meantime, Valancy has to endure a pack of crazy relatives which, from what I can tell about humans, is not all that unusual (one of the good things about being a cat is that you never have to face large family gatherings where family members annoy or embarrass you). Valancy’s crazy relatives (the Stirling clan) provide much of the comic relief in this story. Comic relief is needed because parts of the story line are a bit heavy. (Spoiler alert: early on, Valancy finds out she is going to die).
So, you might think this book is a downer, but trust me, it is not. You might also think it is a routine love story, but it’s not that either. Imagine my surprise, when we’d gotten about 10% into the story, I realized that this book, this masterpiece by L.M. Montgomery was full of feline undertones.
Valancy, you see, is a cat lover. She wants a cat, but her mean, prejudiced, narrow-minded mother won’t let her have one. The reason? It is too shocking, too mean, too hateful for me to repeat, but you can read it for yourself:
Third Cousin Aaron Gray had been scratched by a cat and had blood-poisoning in his finger. “Cats are most dangerous animals,” said Mrs. Frederick. “I would never have a cat about the house.” She glared significantly at Valancy through her terrible glasses. Once, five years ago, Valancy had asked if she might have a cat. She had never referred to it since, but Mrs. Frederick still suspected her of harbouring the unlawful desire in her heart of hearts.
Okay, first I had to wonder, what did third Cousin Aaron Gray do to provoke the cat to scratch him and how do we know that was the cause the blood-poisoning??? But then Valancy—in a startlingly bold move (up until this point in the story, she had been pretty much a doormat)—stands up to her mother and other snobbish relatives, right in the middle of a family dinner:
“People who don’t like cats,” said Valancy, attacking her dessert with a relish, “always seem to think that there is some peculiar virtue in not liking them.”
The family is shocked and horrified, but I immediately began to like this girl. She uses just the right blend of wit and irony to achieve a subtle and poignant humor. I must say, tears came to my eyes over her heroic defense. I think this is a funny line though, because it is all too true. Some people don’t like cats. Well, there are some humans that I’m not particularly fond of, but I don’t go around making up stories about their tendency to spread germs or question their cleanliness. I simply torture them by jumping on their laps when they are visiting. ROTFLOL
But there’s more. I would also like to point out that L.M. Montgomery makes brilliant use of the literary device called foreshadowing because cats turn out to be a major theme in the unfolding of Valancy’s story. I don’t want to give too much away, but here is a bit of self-disclosure from the man who may or may not turn out to be the love of Valancy’s life:
“I have two cats there. Banjo and Good Luck. Adorable animals. Banjo is a big, enchanting, grey devil-cat. Striped, of course. I don’t care a hang for any cat that hasn’t stripes. I never knew a cat who could swear as genteely and effectively as Banjo. His only fault is that he snores horribly when he is asleep. Luck is a dainty little cat. Always looking wistfully at you, as if he wanted to tell you something. Maybe he will pull it off sometime. Once in a thousand years, you know, one cat is allowed to speak. My cats are philosophers—neither of them ever cries over spilt milk.”
Sounds like a keeper to me, and those two absolutely lovely characters, Good Luck and Banjo, turn out to be key players. For example, when things go awry, (of course they would, you didn’t expect smooth sailing, did you? Remember your Shakespeare: the course of true love and all that. Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s read Shakespeare) notice what Valancy laments:
The camp- fires—all their little household jokes and phrases and catch words—their furry beautiful cats—the lights agleam on the fairy islands—canoes skimming over Mistawis in the magic of morning—
All in all, I’d say The Blue Castle is a good read. I highly recommend it and I would readily add it to the list of my favorite books. I am surprised, shocked, nay, appalled that this book is not more highly regarded in the field of kitty literature. I hope you read it and love it as much as I did.