Monday, March 2, 2020

All My Cats, by Bohumil Hrabal. New Directions, written 1995, translated 2019

In 1965, having published his first books to good sales, Hrabal and his wife purchase a country house an hour away from the city where they live and where his wife works. Like a fair number of rural places, it comes with hot and cold running cats- a feral colony which is really quite tame. When they spend the weekend at the cottage, or when Hrabal retreats there to write, the cats flow into the house like a tide, sleeping on the bed, and eating well. When in Prague, Hrabal worries about their welfare. Meanwhile, the cats do what feral cats do- they breed. And when there, his wife frequently utters the only line of dialogue she is allowed: “What are we going to do with all these cats!?”

Does this sound like a nice, heartwarming story, about a man who loves cats and rescues them? After all, the cover is adorable pencil drawings of cats… but think again. This is no Disney story.

Yes, this is a man who loves cats. But as time goes on, he becomes overcome with pressures. The neighbors complain about the cats because they are killing birds. He is under pressure to produce more writing. He is under pressure because of the cost of feeding the cats. And, of course, there is his wife, worrying about the feline deluge. And this leads him to some shocking, violent acts- the kills some of the cats, very brutally. This is no needle of mercy from the vet; this is being beaten to death. And as he does it, he knows it’s wrong, and he knows he had a choice to be merciful, because he lies to his wife and tells her he went to the vet and got chloroform for them. And then the pressure on him gets worse, because he feels terrible causing such pain to the cats and kittens. I believe it created a psychotic break of sorts.

I was horrified by the book. I was not expecting this sort of deliberate violence; it literally made me nauseous. I found it more awful than any work of fictional horror could be. Now, I realize this was a different time and place from my own life; there was no trap/neuter/release programs going on then and there, and spay and neuterings were probably too expensive, especially in bulk. But he did, as I say, have a choice in how he dealt with the matter and that is what repels me. Now, the prose is intriguing; the man had writing talent. I kept reading, and finished the book. But I cannot recommend it to anyone who loves cats.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! I wouldn't touch it with the proverbial 10 foot pole! Thanks for the heads up.