As The Cat is republished by Dedalus Press after 18 years, Pat Gray reflects on its many lives, from parable of Thatcherism and the Troubles to a fable of human life and foibles
Pat Gray: In the end it was not a satire on Thatcherism and politics that I’d written, but a curious and colourful fable on life, and the way most of us restrain ourselves because we care too much for each other in the end.
I originally wanted The Cat to be some kind of Animal Farm for the Thatcher years, but gradually the characters Rat, Mouse and Cat seemed to spiral ludicrously out of control. Despite, or maybe because of, this the book was well received when it first came out in 1997, translated into various languages and with a very fine American edition by Ecco Press.
I’d been quite clear at the start that Rat would represent the Labour mainstream, truculent and egalitarian, but ambitious too, while Mouse would twitter away with timid, Liberal intellectualising about any problem. The Cat would transform everything with menace and an appeal to greed.
But the comic human potential of the characters got the better of me and I could not resist the temptations of the genre; the improbable props of animal waistcoats, slippers and the surreal context of scale which required the Rat to hack his way through Berber carpet as if it were as deep impenetrable field of sugar cane. It all became too much fun for me; the Rat with his empty briefcase, the Cat riffling through mail order catalogues, the Mouse with his comprehensive knowledge of Kafka.
Thrown together by bad circumstance, as in Animal Farm, the characters were too human to be able to do away with each other in the end. They bickered and argued in their tiny, claustrophobic world rather than seizing power and dominance. The Cat could not bring himself to eat the Mouse, the Rat lacked the administrative skills necessary for a socialist Utopia, and the Mouse was just basically too timid, too knowledgeable to believe that things could ever be different.
In the end it was not a satire on Thatcherism and politics that I’d written, but a curious and colourful fable on life, and the way most of us restrain ourselves because we care too much for each other in the end.
Maybe there are some echoes in the book of my upbringing in Belfast; the sense of order breaking down and of new forces beginning to stalk the province, the dark potential of empty spaces at night, of hedgerows and gardens and of new, inconceivable methods.
Maybe the Mouse was me, observing that, but unable to act, and the Cat and Rat agents of political opportunism and violence? However, most people who have read it have just enjoyed the animals, and how seriously they take themselves, making do as we all have to.
It’s great that it’s republished now by Dedalus, as the more I look at it, the more ways I can see of enjoying it. So I hope people will laugh and enjoy it too, as whatever kind of tale works for them.