Review: On Cats by Doris Lessing

November 24, 2013

Author: Doris Lessing
Publisher: Harper
Year: 2008
ISBN: 9780061672248
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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Doris Lessing’s musings on her feline companions over the years makes for interesting reading. While this is not Lessing at her best, and may disconcert some readers with its brutal honesty, it is definitely worth a read.

Let me start by admitting that I am an extremely snobbish reader. When I hear of a book getting the Booker/Pulitzer/Nobel/Sahitya Akademi/you-name-the-prize, it triggers in me the fierce need to read books by that author. So when Doris Lessing won her Nobel Prize in 2007 (“Oldest winner! Woman Writer!”), I looked her up on Wikipedia and decided that I would begin my Lessing session with “The Fifth Child”. I ordered the book and read it from cover to cover, barely blinking through the 3 hours it took to devour it whole. In other words, I loved it. So I ordered its sequel, “Ben, In The World” and finished that too. And then I started on “On Cats”.

Before I go any further, let me explain that along with being a bibliophile, a lover of books, I am also an ailurophile, a lover of cats. This combination has placed me in a dilemma. Because while “On Cats” is undoubtedly well-written, it also touches upon a rather painful topic, and more than once; the culling of (admittedly) superfluous cats.  This is described in graphic detail, with none of the sentimentality one associates with ‘cutesie-pie’ animal literature such as James Herriot’s stories of veterinary triumphs. ‘Babe’ this is NOT. Quite the opposite; this book deals with the grimmest realities of living with pets, things that the casual reader may not want to know. EVER.  As a reader, I applaud. As an animal lover, it made me cringe …. at first.

However, once squeamishness was set aside, ‘On Cats’ grew on me. It seems to have been written casually, without the author feeling the need to revise her first draft, perhaps. She has written about cats she has known, cats she has loved, cats she has despised, and cats who have forced their way into her life whether she liked it or not. The word that comes to mind is ‘musing’… she muses about these cats, and her musings have been made into a book. One imagines her sitting at her writing desk with El Magnifico, her cat at the time of writing the book, glancing at him from time to time, narrowing her eyes in deep thought, and then continuing to write on in her clear, unapologetic, forthright prose.

Animal lovers, you have been warned….. stay far away! And this is not a book I would recommend for children. Nor would I consider this one of Lessing’s best efforts; far from it. But interesting? Thought-provoking? Worth a read? Definitely.

Mugdha Wagle

Mugdha Wagle

Content Editor at IndiaBookStore
Kitabi Keeda of the most obsessive sort. When she's reading something, interrupt her only if you have life insurance! Discovering a fantastic new author can move her to tears. Loves trekking, adores animals and venerates good food (eating it, not cooking it :))!
Mugdha Wagle


  • richasingh November 26, 2013 at 5:40 AM

    I am in all the categories you suggested for yourself. I too like to google books when authors win awards. Latest being Munro. I had read her through some random essays but now full fledged research is being kicked off. Well I say this for all authors, there are only one or two books in which they are at their best, rest are disappointing. But in words of Marlyn Monroe, if you don;t love me at my worst then whats the point 😀

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