by Claire de Vries, Bloomsbury 1999
A month or two ago, Patricia and I decided we need a Siamese cat in addition to the black and ginger cats we already have. We used to have a talkative long-haired Siamese mongrel, free from a Californian cat shelter, so we were surprised to find that the real thing costs £350, and you have to book way in advance. I found "Of Cats and Kings" in a used bookstore and picked it up because it relates Clare De Vries's search for a new Siamese cat in Siam and Burma, which sounds like fun. On the same shelf was her first book, "I and Claudius", where she hits the highways of the USA with her 19-year-old chocolate Burmese, so he can go out with a bang, and so she can run away from boring jobs and the memories of her mother's death. It sounds like it could be pretty sappy, doesn't it? After all, it includes dialogues with the cat. Ah, but Clare is a Bad Girl. She smokes and cusses, has road rage, and behaves badly in bars. She takes Claudius places he is not allowed, like an airplane over the Grand Canyon, motels, caves, and gives enforcers a hard time. Her writing is quick and colloquial ("juh, right!") and I found myself enjoying it, though I don't want to meet her. I liked her visit to a couple of photographers in New Mexico, both nudists. She and the woman sit in a porcelain bath by the river, built over a wood fire:
Huge droplets hang from our eyes, our brows, our noses, our teeth and still we talk. The sky is a leaden grey against the bottle-green of the trees and grass. The relentless heat of the fire and the soothing cool of the rain are like hot apple pie and ice cream. Because of the rain, smoke pours out from under the fire, leaving its sweet cheesy smell in our hair and eyes. It mixes in with the wild mint, sunflowers and the other herbs and weeds growing by the bath and river.
Maybe I just enjoy this because it is a relief from the sleazier places she ends up. If you like cats and Gucci, or are a vet who recently moved to New Jersey, you might like this book.
Paul wrote: have you ever read the bit diary of a cat? your review somehow reminded me of it ...