Book review: ‘The Year of the Cat’

‘The Year of the Cat’ book cover
Caring for her kitten during the pandemic leads an uncertain writer to choose motherhood.
By Sally Rosenthal

The Year of the Cat by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. Hachette UK, 2023. Hardcover, 305 pages.

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Having read several of journalist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s insightful and incisive articles in The Guardian newspaper, I had a feeling her new book, The Year of the Cat, wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill “cat lady” memoir. (Mind you, I have nothing against such memoirs and often think my own life story with my felines would fall nicely into that genre.) A feminist who delves into the dark corners of social history and family life, Rhiannon explores far more than the love she shares with Mackerel, the kitten she and her husband adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is one of my favorite reads of 2023 so far.

Married and in her 30s with a rising literary career, Rhiannon nonetheless co-existed with inner demons. She is the survivor of a strangulation assault by a stranger on the London streets and of a Paris terrorist attack.

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Despite therapy, she has carried the trauma with her — wondering how, having been unable to keep herself safe, she could ever aspire to raising a child. A lingering sense of self-blame, coupled with the energy of loving caregiving for her autistic brother, left the author watching from the sidelines as friends chose pregnancy and parenthood.

Enter Mackerel, a tiny rescued kitten Rhiannon and her husband adopted during the pandemic. Fierce in her determination to provide a good home for Mackerel, she comes to realize the ways caring for a totally dependent little creature lifted much of her ambivalence and anxiety about being able to care for a child.

What occurs over the course of the titular “Year of the Cat” is not comprised of aha moments and sudden bursts of illumination. Mackerel’s magic is a slower process, one that takes root in Rhiannon’s heart. It blossoms and leads her into a brighter world that, although still somewhat scary, is filled with possibilities. Such, as any cat lady will attest, is the wonder wrought by life with a feline.

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Book Reviews