Sunday, 30 March 2014

Hellish Prose: A Review of Lynne Truss' Cat Out Of Hell


Alec, a retired librarian and recent widower, is taking a break in a coastal village to get over his recent bereavement and decides to look into a laptop filled with information given to him by a fellow librarian. Inside the laptop are files that tell the story of an actor called Wiggy and his acquaintance with Roger - a talking cat. Roger’s story spans decades, years in which his supernatural longevity, intelligence and speech were down to a mysterious cat called the Captain and a Satanic cat cult. And Alec is soon to realise his wife’s death wasn’t an accident - the hellcats are coming for him next! 

Cat Out Of Hell is one of the laziest novels I’ve read in a while. I’ve never read a Lynne Truss book before so I can’t say if this is her usual style but it reads like it was a frenzied NaNoWriMo effort (National Novel Writing Month where people try to write a 50k word novel during the month of November) thrown together in bursts of typing over actual creativity. Characters splutter exposition through one badly constructed scene after another without a hint of a plot with key details left out with no attempt at making it seem like a cohesive whole. 

This is what it feels like was racing through the author’s mind as she hacked this one out: there’s this evil cat cult - people dying! - Roger’s evil - no, wait the Captain’s evil - no wait, the cat cult is evil - no wait the evil librarian is evil - no, the evil librarian’s the head honcho - why did that character die, never mind, they’re dead, they were never “characters” anyway! - why did that character do that action even though it went against their flimsily created character, never mind, moving on - why did we suddenly jump ahead 70 years, NEVER MIND!!! - wait, why did Roger and the Captain fall out despite being besties for years? - NEVER MIND, KEEP GOING!!!! Done? Thank god! Well, no need to go back and make sure it reads well, I’ll just send this off and get on with my life. Cheque please! 

It’s madness! You can follow what’s happening but the narrative skips and jumps for no reason. When Truss builds up to an interesting scene like a heist or a murder mystery reveal, she skips it and jumps ahead to the aftermath - probably because that’s easier to write - before going back to the safety of Alec or Wiggy’s overly chatty, rather scatterbrained narration. 

The ending is also a massive let down. Events stumble clumsily to the final act and then, just when I thought it couldn’t possibly be this predictable, Truss MUST do something a little different to make things at least a bit interesting, she opts instead for exactly the least original choice. Other bizarre creative decisions in the narrative involve switching from first person narration to email exchanges, screenplay scenes, and something downright sickening called an “e-miaow” (definitely the only horror element in the novel), for no reason! 

Truss’ ideas about the long living, talking cats could barely be called ideas. If you’re a cat owner you’ll know they have a habit of kneading their paws on you - Truss spins it so that cats used to have powers to kill humans and the non-powered cats do this expecting you to die and are disappointed when you don’t. Hmm, heard that before. Or how about their superior attitude that seems completely undeserved? Well, they used to have powers and… zzz… Ho hum. 

Truss even seems aware of her languorous efforts and addresses them in the text itself: “I no longer care much about the gaps in this story, so I hope you don’t either.” So there you go - any gaps in the story won’t be addressed and neither will the stuff that didn’t make sense. But she “thoroughly enjoyed writing it, so there you are.” Alright guys? Up yours! I put more effort and thought into writing this review than Truss did in the entire novel. 

Cat Out Of Hell isn’t horror, it’s dreary nothing. It’s not comedy either, I didn’t see any jokes in the text. It completely fails at the two genres it attempts. It’s grammatically sound, as you’d expect from the author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, but what a pitiful positive that is to say about a novel! Cat Out Of Hell is a rushed, poorly conceived and even more poorly executed hack job that I wouldn’t even line my cat’s litter tray with. If you want to read an interesting talking cat story, check out Saki’s short story, Tobermory instead.

Cat out of Hell

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