Monday, November 02, 2009

Cleo by Helen Brown

ISBN-10: 1741759072. Publisher: Arena

*This review contains spoilers*

I really enjoyed this book. It grabbed me from the first moment with a picture of an ultra-cute kitteh on the front (Basement cat never looked so cute), and the blurb promising a sad tale with a thread of joy. Just what I am looking for this year for some reason. Thanks to Mum for buying it for me.

Well, it was indeed a sad tale, with a joyful thread; it is in fact is Helen Brown's true story. I shared her rendered heart when Sam, her eldest boy, was struck down. I felt the warmth grow with each new antic of Cleo. I also felt increasingly annoyed each time she let loose her inner voice whining about some aspect of the budding relationship she was developing with Phillip.

It is strange that Cleo is and is not the main character of this book. She grows up with the family, and "teaches" them how to focus on the positive. Right up until the end, when she is a 24 year old queen cat!

I will always hold this book dear to my heart because of the honesty Helen showed in this telling. The most striking moment in the whole book for me is this paragraph in the first 50 pages:

It was no easier for Steve. A few days after the accident I awoke under a waterfall of his tears. He'd never cried in front of me before. I should have reached out and embraced him then, but I was half-awake, unprepared. Distraught, momentarily confused. I simply asked him to stop. I didn't imagine the request would be taken literally and he'd never express sorrow in front of me again.

This paragraph alone describes what has become of the relationship with her first husband while they are both wallowing in sorrow. I was angry at Helen here: she *broke* her man; but on a deeper level I knew it was just the skin of a bubble bursting. It is a portentous moment of stark narrative clarity in a sea of misery that can only be told in hindsight.

A wonderful book - it makes me want to write the story of my cat, Nebulous - a grand 26 years old and still kickin (purring)!

See Helen Brown's website, upon which you can read the Cleo Launch Speech, Melbourne Australia, September 2009 and a page of letters people have written to Helen.