My thanks to Agora Books and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
Cat Flap is a slightly fantastical, quirky, humorous but also slightly over the top novel. Successful corporate executive, Dolores Tremayne, finds part of herself in her family’s cat, X (named so by her daughter, since it sounds ‘mysterious’) while her human self is away on one of her frequent business trips, this time to Germany. As X, she begins to see (albeit partly from the cat’s perspective) the happenings at her home, and finds all is not going as smoothly or wonderfully as she chooses to believe. Her husband, author of a somewhat well received (though not well-selling) book, who is supposedly working on the next part of his book, is actually not only cheating on Dolores but is also into drugs. Her older daughter seems to be communicating with a suspicious character on the internet. But Dolores’ human self is blissfully unaware of all this and the part that is in X can’t really do very much on her/its own. And to top it all, the despicable Gerald and separately, his mistress (their upstairs neighbour) are determined to do away with poor X.
In the book, Cowell takes us into the minds and thoughts of various characters—X and the part of Dolores sharing her body, the rather repulsive Gerald as well as the ‘human’ Dolores, and we also follow other characters including Gerald’s mistresses and Dolores’ wealthy, self-made, father who is involved in some dubious dealings of his own. We follow each of these, learn of Gerald and Dolores’ back stories, their lives before marriage, how they met and their relationship began, and of course how things have turned out in their lives (alongside, issues of race, class, wealth, etc. in society and at the workplace are explored). We don’t learn too much about their two daughters, Portia and Astra, as individuals, but Portia’s messages to her internet ‘friend’ play a role in the overall plot.
To start off, with I would say that from the cover I was quite sceptical about how the book would turn out to be, but had requested it because of the cat aspects of the plot. However, it turned out to be much more enjoyable than I was expecting.
The concept of the book when I read its description, a woman, part of whom wakes up in her cat seemed really interesting to me, and reading the book, I thought this was really well done. I liked how Cowell has interpreted this scenario in that the cat, X, remains a cat, and retains its own personality, though being conscious of another presence in itself. The Dolores in the cat can see things and understand them as her human self would but not always for X’s cat personality and qualities prevent this from happening entirely. So we hear both lines of thought, both voices—sometimes interacting, sometimes unable to communicate with each other, and neither able to operate quite fully as themselves (perhaps, the cat is, actually).
I felt for X when she talks of her life as a ‘flat cat’—her food only those premade pellets, never getting the chance to step out and breathe in fresh air (or chase/hunt other creatures), and not even knowing certain sights or smells because she is forever (or almost forever) inside. I know that the cat’s voice is again a human talking on a cat’s behalf, but as someone who has cats (and also having very recently lost one when she was outdoors, which led me to question my letting her out), I did still feel for poor X because while I realise that we keep them in because we want them to be safe, it is essentially like a prison for them.
X was certainly my favourite character in the story. The humans, on the other hand, were not quite as likeable. Gerald, as I already wrote is rather despicable (for many reasons), and while he might claim his behaviour as being something he can’t help, he seems only to be making excuses to himself (what he plans for poor X is totally unforgiveable, and he isn’t the slightest bit remorseful). So I wanted very much throughout the story for him to get his just desserts (also his awful mistress). Dolores while not an unlikeable person in herself, seems rather naïve when matters of the heart are concerned, for it isn’t that she didn’t know what Gerald was like, but like many others, she simply falls into the stereotypical trap of believing that she could or has changed him.
The plot overall was pretty enjoyable in that I wanted to keep reading, of course to see how things turn out for poor X, but also how the human Dolores finds out all the part of her that is in X knows, and how as a consequence, Gerald ends up (the characters’ backstories including Dolores’ father’s were interesting to follow as well). All of the threads of the story come together for a rather dramatic culmination in which X ends up plays a heroic role. However, here I felt things got a bit too over the top—playing out like one of those exaggerated movie scenes which I don’t really enjoy all that much.
There is humour in the writing for sure which I enjoyed, more so at the start when Dolores that it in the cat is figuring things out, thinking of books and authors, among other things. But in the later part of the book, I did find like another reviewer that I was rushing through a bit, so perhaps a slightly trimmer version would have helped. This book has been published earlier in 2018, but this version has been updated to incorporate the covid and lockdown elements which make it more current, and shape the absolute end a bit differently to what it would likely have been.
Overall a fun read, with a definitely intriguing concept, and interpreted in an interesting way.
p.s.: there are mentions of animal cruelty, though saying what happens finally would be a spoiler; also some explicit-ish content; and drugs.
3.8 rounded off to 4