See The World From A Furrier Point Of View In "Cat Flap"

Title:  Cat Flap
Author:  Alan S. Cowell
Format:  Kindle ARC
Length:  240 pages
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Rating:  4.5 Stars

"When she awoke as a cat, Dolores Tremayne saw no immediate advantage in having four paws instead of two arms and two legs…" A brilliant, funny novel of love, marriage and modern life.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play – but who will oversee the cat?

When Dolores Tremayne, a successful business executive, travels overseas, part of her remains mysteriously behind in X, the family’s indoor cat. Through feline eyes, Dolores witnesses the shocking behavior of her errant husband, the stalled novelist Gerald Tremayne. Far away in Germany, the human Dolores is conducting high-powered negotiations with a prestigious auto-maker, but back at home, her husband’s liaisons force him into ever more drastic exploits. Meanwhile, Dolores begins to wonder about the strange words and images that have begun to pop into her head, as if from nowhere.

Funny and memorable, Cat Flap will appeal to all fans of clever satire.


When she awoke as a cat, Dolores Tremayne saw no immediate advantage in having four paws instead of two arms and two legs; in being 100 percent swathed in fine, silky fur; in occupying the horizontal rather than the vertical plane; in having a tiny little sliver of pink tongue that attended willy-nilly to matters of intimate personal grooming. She did not know when the transformation, the metamorphosis, had occurred, or whether part of her was still human somewhere else in some other entity. She was aware of being incredibly small. She did not think right away of that book which opens with a man discovering that he has become a large and cumbersome insect lying on his hard, shell-like back in some indistinct faraway place. When she did think of him, she could not immediately recall his name. But she understood that she and he were different.
The man in the book was immobile. She was not. He was a monstrous bug. She was a cat. She moved, glided, rolled, scratched. She was aware of soft pads on rough sisal carpets, sharp claws digging into scratching posts in a place that she recognized as her own human home. She received signals, baffling at first, from her new whiskers, her nostrils, her enormous bushy tail.
A tail, for heaven’s sake.
That was it. Gregor Samsa. She had not greatly enjoyed the book, despite the renown of its author, but her ability to remember it unsettled her.
If, as all evidence suggested, she was now a cat, how could she even begin to contemplate Mr. Samsa’s predicament, for a cat’s knowledge of nineteenth-century Czech authors—or any other authors or centuries for that matter—was, ipso facto, nonexistent. (If you don’t agree, ask yourself when you last saw a cat leafing through War and Peace, or Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or even Hello! magazine.)
But if she had the kind of mind that could frame such conundrums, recall such factoids as the name of poor Gregor Samsa with relative—indeed, human—ease, why did she have the body of a cat?
Would a cat, even of the most superior and refined breeding, seek parallels in the words and works of Franz Kafka? (Once, on a business trip to Berlin, she had seen a plump tabby perched in the large plate-glass window of an artsy café, surrounded by colored posters for galleries and exhibits, as if claiming intimacy with Klimt and Macke. But that particular memory was from her human data banks—so how had they gotten into this cat’s body?)
Would it help anyhow to compare her condition to that of some fictional character in a book that people only mentioned to show how smart they were, how well-read, well-bred? The analogy could only really help by suggesting that you were not alone, that your trans-species migration was not unique, that you were at the beginning of this, not the end. (Who remembers how The Metamorphosis ends? Not nicely is the answer.)
The reality was that, if you—or part of you—awoke as a cat; if the familiar orbit of your memory developed a sudden dark glitch, a hiccup, veering across uncharted reaches; if your entire life switched onto a different existential track as surely as an express train crossing the points at a critical junction between A and B hurtled off to destination C; if the entire trajectory of your achievements and status and pretensions and ambition became oddly irrelevant; then, if all or any of those conditions were your new self, you were entitled to all the help and solace you could get—from Franz Kafka, or Gregor Samsa, or anyone else you could summon to your banner.
Was it all a dream, derived from those questions of human, rather than feline, identity that seemed to trouble so many people? She thought she should pinch herself to see if she awoke. But tiny claws don’t pinch. Only fingers pinch. And only humans and related primates had developed the exquisite motor skills of the opposable thumb, although many species have dreams that leave them twitching in their slumbers, legs and tails quivering in hidden pursuits and escapes. Only humans, as far as she knew, regarded self-pinching as a wake-up call. And if it was not a dream, there was nothing to wake up from.
Dolores Tremayne had walked out of her family apartment as a successful corporate executive, mou-mouing a kiss to her dashing husband, hugging their daughters, toting her laptop and carry-on, checking that she had credit cards, e-ticket printouts, frequent flier cards to permit access to comfortable lounges, her mind already reconnoitering the distant offices in Munich where she would negotiate a new contract for the supply of onboard computers and other electronic wizardry to enhance the experience of driving a top-of-the-line, fully-loaded, state-of-the-art BMW.
She had been wearing a tailored gray suit with not-too-high heels, a modest skirt and sheer stockings meant to emphasize her sculpted calves without seeming inappropriately flirtatious. Her deep-blue silk blouse was chosen to send the same message of attractiveness without immediate availability. (The bra and pants underneath from La Senza in Milan were her own affair.) Her agenda had been a construct of appointments, hotel accommodations, and flight reservations. (Business class, junior suite, she had told her secretary. Nothing too flashy for the eagle-eyed tricoteuses of Accounts.)
And, as far as her cat’s eyes could intuit from her human absence in her human family home, Dolores Tremayne was still out there, over there, stepping off the Lufthansa flight, taking a Mercedes cab to the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, welcomed back by obsequious-arrogant concierges and front desk people, expressing herself fluently in German exchanges with a sly lilt of Bavarian—Guten Tag! Wie geht’s heute? Herzlich willkommen, gnaedige Frau! Schoen Sie wiederzusehen! Ebenfalls!
But part of her was not there. Part of her—mind, soul, did the precise definition even matter?—had simply transferred, migrated or duplicated itself into the body of the finely bred, highly pedigreed family cat.
Part of her was X.
(Let’s call her X, her youngest daughter, Astra, had said: she’s a mystery cat. And the name had stuck, sounding somewhat precocious, it is true, but nonetheless appropriate in that North London environment where they take delight in such whimsy. Like teaching toddlers how to pronounce the word diplodocus with just the right modulation, or to spell materialism without necessarily knowing what it was.)
Apart from The Metamorphosis, she was also trying to recall the name of the movie about cats that includes a song with the line, sung by a cat: Everybody wants to be a cat.
Perhaps, she mused—or maybe mewed, or purred—everybody does want to be endowed with feline qualities of guile and superciliousness, of being able to manipulate the immediate environment to advantage. But when that wish is redeemed to its ultimate conclusion, the consequences are far more complicated than you might imagine.
When you are a cat, of course, you don’t remember the titles of films because you cannot read the credits, you cannot really perceive things in the way humans do, have little sense of color (smell, night vision and hearing are different matters, oh yes!) and desire is limited to various reflexive moments rather than anticipating a pick-and-mix medley of pursuits that, based on previous experience or delicious anticipation, you would rather be engaged on, such as vacationing in Saint-Tropez or the Hamptons, or having sex, or imagining it while having dinner and sipping fine Italian wine, as her human counterpart sometimes illicitly did on her business trips when a contact or negotiator or counter-party requested an after-hours pursuit of negotiations, discussions, “meetings,” and, for want of other amusement beyond room service and pay-TV movies, she agreed to the first if never the second sinful part of the evening’s agenda.
Being a cat, in other words, should be enough in itself. That is the central tenet of the feline universe. Unlike lolloping, barking, bottom-sniffing, cock-tailing, tree-peeing dogs, which seek codependency with their patrons, cats are self-sufficient. They train their owners as their personal attendants. They balance moments of affection and phases of withdrawal. They share their logic with no biped.
But life as a cat, Dolores was discovering, is not all saucers of milk and mindless games with feathery objects, or chasing electronically-generated laser fish, or being cuddly and loved unconditionally.
There is, for instance, the very simple question of height. You live, almost literally, at ground level. Your husband, wife, children rear above you, giants. You skulk along skirting boards. Your neck arches ever upward, craning in supplication to your benefactors. You are Lilliputian. Humiliated.
If, like X, you are a flat-cat, as locked into the family apartment as surely as an orange-suited prisoner is confined at Guantanamo Bay or Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London, a cat bred and destined to be forever indoors, then your horizons extend no farther than a carpet, and a scratch-post, and a ludicrous cat-tree that resembles no natural tree in any way beyond vertical reach. For Hamptons, read: trip to the vet. Deworming, nail clipping, injections, fear and loathing of the white-jacketed torturer and extractor of enormous, unjustified fees. For sex, read nothing, not since one particular trip to the vet’s after awakening to impossible, squirming, procreative urges, and the subsequent weight gain and loss of something that should never have been taken away—and certainly was not taken away from her human self, or from most of her more feral co-felines in gardens, along high walls, in shrubberies and nooks and crannies where natural instincts were allowed full, fecund yowling dominion.
Then there is communication. There they all are, thinking their spouse or parent is in Bavaria talking to German executives about GPS systems and USB ports and mp3 docks and Wi-Fi and The Cloud, and what can you say to disabuse them? I am here! Under your nose! Under your feet! Please do not tread on me! Look at me: only my physical appearance has changed! It is me! In the body of the cat you all love, or pretend to love.
Dolores Tremayne, it is true, could not resist a stirring of curiosity, befitting a cat, about the potential and limits of her new condition.
As a human, she had always kept herself in pretty good shape—gym subscriptions, jogging, the Dukan Diet had all seen to the business of maintaining a flattish stomach, an unembarrassing waist size for her purchases of houndstooth work suits and pricy logo-laden blue jeans, summer bikinis, winter ski suits, Indian Ocean wet suits. But she had never, before her life as a cat, experienced the tremendous, Ferrari-esque acceleration of four-legged power; the ability to leap into the air to heights double or triple the length of her own body (try jumping fifteen or eighteen feet in the air from a standing start, humans, even with a pole to help!); the ease with which, on silent paws, she could simply materialize at a junction of walls where she had not been a second earlier; or display the incredible lightness of her new being—and where did that phrase or something very like it come from?—springing over great canyons of sofas, descending, almost in glide-flight, from the polished surface of tables where she was not supposed to be in the first place. In short, she had never understood quadruped maneuverability, grace, until it was hers to inhabit.
(Now she was thinking of Orwell and Animal Farm—“four legs good, two legs bad!” How would a cat know that?)
But if her new maneuverability was the upside, the downside imposed itself in so many ways, such as eating when you have no hands, only paws that are no match for, say, a computer keyboard, or a knife and fork, or a pepper pot. Try poking your nose into a bowl of noisome pellets—the sole, no-star diet of a flat-cat—only at those preordained moments when food is made available by some higher being that used to be a husband or child.
Her vision, too, was fuzzy, warped, yet capable of functioning well in the dark (so it was true!) like those camera shots her human eyes used to follow in documentary television programs about benighted war zones or nocturnal watering holes in remote African game reserves when her huge, new, distant cousins slunk from the savannah to drink.
Her tiny, furry ears detected sounds much farther away than she had ever been able to hear. Her nostrils guided her with the same authority as the newest voice-activated, touch-screen gizmo fitted snugly into the dash of the 7 Series BMW in Munich.
And, as she was to discover, there was the supreme indignity of the toilet arrangements, entering a dark box, defecating in this artificial gloaming, scratching and shoveling to hide your embarrassment at the fact that there is no flush, no water, no paper—only the reliance on claw and paw.
Everybody wants to be a cat until they become one.
The Aristocats.
That was the movie.
She prowled, now, below the lowest shelf of her bookcase. What would it be today? A dip into Kierkegaard? A sojourn with Wainwright in the Lake District? A little Dickens or Proust? Baudelaire? De Nerval? Lawrence? Dylan Thomas? T. S. fucking Eliot on the upper shelves located at eye level where her husband thought they advertised his wordy credentials?
Nothing, of course. Cats do not read. They cannot turn pages. (Cats do not swear, she reminded herself guiltily, anxious not to offend the norms of her breed, her fellow felines.)
Words blur, jumble—hieroglyphics, gradations of shade. Paper in its cardboard form is only of use for scratching and tearing when your nails need trimming—another function she could no longer perform independently.
Sharing the body of X was like being in one of those dual-control cars used by driving schools, where the pupil may be happily barreling along with one wheel on a sidewalk and heading in the general direction of the rear of a bus when the instructor panics, grasps the wheel, slams on the brakes, cuts the engine, lights yet one more cigarette with shaking hands. (How could she have known that?)
X maintained her own volition, her own voice, her capricious sense of the appropriate moment for arrival or departure, sleep or wakefulness. X, more or less, was in the driver’s seat. Dolores, more or less, was the passenger. X the instructor. Dolores the pupil. A cat in training, apprenticeship.
She found herself cleaning herself with her own tongue—Yeeuuww! She found herself contorting herself like a prepubescent Olympic gymnast, one leg extended vertically. She curled on beds. She lurked in dark corners.
As her elder daughter, Portia, switched on her laptop at a time Dolores gauged to be midway between several rather woozy naps (was this what was meant by catatonic?), she rested her head on the keyboard and peered at the screen but was aware of little more than the cursor, still less the incoming Facebook message asking her child for a clandestine meeting. (“I am 14-year-old girl just like you, will meet outside Kentish Town tube on Northern Line. Do not tell your parents.”)
Get used to it, she tried to tell herself! You are a cat! Shit in a box! Slip through the cat flap in quest of company, new smells, mice, voles, pigeons, sparrows, rats—the whole menagerie of fluffy, furry, feathered beings that, according to human research, cats across the globe destroyed by the billion every year.
“But keep the dog far hence that’s friend to man.” At all costs. “Or with nails.” Eliot. The top shelf that she could no longer reach.
Then she remembered that there was no cat flap. Dolores herself had taped the apartment’s preexisting cat flap closed because X was a flat-cat, not a cat flap–cat like the downstairs neighbor’s mischlings that set their own schedules and skulked and pooped around the communal gardens and returned from obscure nocturnal missions with limp, half-dead creatures in their jaws; or hurtled over the fence from Hampstead Heath with Labradors and Rottweilers in snarling, frustrated pursuit.
How long will I be a cat, Dolores found her human mind thinking as her feline body chose that very moment to approach an expensive sofa that she had selected in person from the top of the range at the Conran Shop in Marylebone High Street.
Systematically, dispassionately, X began to scratch the creamy fabric that she was not supposed to scratch.
Stop that, X, Dolores shouted silently, but her words had no effect.
How could they? She had no voice. The larynx belonged to X. Her feline side was unaware of her human side.
Dolores Tremayne had lost the biped right to dominance.
What will happen when my human body returns, Dolores asked herself, when I come home from all the points on my extended business trip—Munich and Detroit and Tokyo? Do I nuzzle my own human legs with my furry cat flanks? And why oh why did I let them talk me into such an ambitious itinerary of long-haul flights and flat-bed seats and bratwurst and sushi and steaks the size of doormats? How can I tell me to come home?
Someone picked her up, tumbled her onto her back, rubbed her cozy, furry abdomen. She heard the sound of purring and realized that she was making it.

Copyright © 2018 by Alan Cowell

My Thoughts
There are so many aspects of Cat Flap to love, ponder, and just simply amuse oneself with.  That this reviewer is simply at a loss for a place to start.
So please indulge me for just a moment and allow me to begin with the following.

If you are a cat owner/slave, are fond of felines, or have ever wanted to be a cat for any reason.  This book is for you.
With that being said.
let the reviewing commence.

Delores Tremayne is a high-powered "head hunter" working courting a German automaker.
Well, at least most of her is.
I say most of her, because it appears that she left a portion of her consciousness in the safe keeping of her cat X. Back home in "jolly old England".

A home that Delores, with the assistance of X, will discover is not the haven of domestic bliss that she has hithertofore believed.
Because at least in the case of her husband.  One Gerald Tremanyne, suburban house-husband and not so popular novelist.
While the cat watches, Mr Mouse and her rather tech-savvy micelings will engage in all manner of "play".  Each more dangerous and in some cases shocking than the last.
Not knowing that inside said cat,  an increasingly alarmed wife and mother is bearing witness to it all.
Along with X, of course.

A big part of what makes this book such a pleasure to read?
The the parts of it that are told from the viewpoint of X.
The simple and direct cause and effect relationship that X has with not only the people of the house, but the goings on as well.  Provides quite the refreshing change from the scheming and subterfuge of those supposed "higher thinking" beings.  
The juxtaposition of  X's viewpoint, Delores' realizations, a pervasive humor, and break-neck pace makes this journey into magical realism one that a reader will surely want to repeat.
This is a book that will make one rethink all of the things about family, love, trust, and most importantly, our cats.


About Alan
Alan CowellALAN S. COWELL is a British writer whose career spanned four decades as a foreign correspondent, first for Reuters and then for The New York Times. Alongside news coverage, he authored works of fiction and non-fiction, including The Terminal Spy, a definitive account of the life and death of Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former KGB officer poisoned with radioactive polonium in London in 2006. His novels include Permanent Removal, set in post-apartheid South Africa. Cowell is married and lives in London.

Find Him:  Twitter/ Goodreads

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