On Cats

A friend of mine is a big fan of Doris Lessing, so I offered to send her my copy of On Cats. She asked me if I’d draw or sketch a cat for her on the flyleaf, and now, many months after the request, I finally followed up on my promise. This is just a little preview, but you can see the full drawing on createthreesixty5.com. I’m hoping she doesn’t see this post as I’d like it to be a surprise…

Here’s the review I wrote about this diminutive tome when I read it back in March:

On Cats by Doris Lessing ★★★★

By the time I finished this little book, which I took many weeks to slowly peruse while I had other things going on, I was quite sorry I had come to the last page, because the story I had just read was both sublime and heartbreaking, an ode to a cat who had clearly taken a very special place in Dorris Lessing’s heart. When I got it, I wondered how it could be that a book on cats written by a Nobel Prize laureate wasn’t more popular, but then the first few pages gave me the answer. Lessing’s unflinching recollections about cats begin with those that lived in and out of their family farmhouse in Africa when she was a child. As they multiplied exponentially, with many of them going wild and then attacking the fowls, Lessing’s mother was assigned to kill a great number of them off, which makes for some gruesome and sad anecdotes—hard to take for an animal lover. By chapter 3, things become much more tolerable, even quite enchanting, with the hard living of Africa now forgotten, as we’re introduced to a beautiful new arrival in the author’s London flat:

“The kitten was six weeks old. It was enchanting, a delicate fairy-tale cat, whose Siamese genes showed in the shape of her face, ears, tail, and the subtle lines of its body. Her back was tabby: from above or the back, she was a pretty tabby kitten, in grey and cream, But her front and stomach were a smoky-gold, Siamese cream, with half-bars of black at the neck. Her face was pencilled with black—fine dark rings around the eyes, fine dark streaks on her cheeks, a tiny cream-coloured nose with a pink tip, outlined in black. From the front, sitting with her slender paws straight, she was an exotically beautiful beast. She sat, a tiny thing, in the middle of a yellow carpet, surrounded by five worshippers, not at all afraid of us. Then she stalked around the floor of the house, inspecting every inch of it, climbed up on to my bed, crept under the fold of a sheet, and was at home.”

Only a true cat lover could have written those lines, and we discover all the wonders of grey cat (mentioned above), and her standoff with black cat, most of which is quite amusing and charming, if you ignore the bits about kittens having to be gotten rid of, since apparently in these bygone days, people didn’t believe in getting their cats spayed. But when we reach the last story “The Old Age of El Magnifico”, we’re willing to forgive Lessing for taking us through the painful bits—this is a true love letter to a cat dearly beloved, which pulls at the heartstrings, and might make the reader shed a tear or two, as I did.


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