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A Cat Is Purring. Be afraid. Be VERY afraid. (No spoilers, only lures)

Cat Out Of HellLynne Truss has written a witty, scary, oddball, corpse-filled. literature-loving, perfectly-punctuated, (I assume) , delight of a book.

The problem is – I can’t say very much about it without spoiling the journey which you, dear reader, need to make for yourself, without your own voyage of discovery being marred by inadvertent and carelessly strewn spoilers by this (or any) reviewer.

I was one of the very lucky ones, getting this as a very early ARC from the publisher, and all I had to go on, was this, from the fairly minimalist (great, no spoilers!) blurb:

 By acclaimed storyteller Lynne Truss, author of the bestselling Eats, Shoots and Leaves, the mesmerising tale of a cat with nine lives, and a relationship as ancient as time itself and just as powerful.     

The scene: a cottage on the coast on a windy evening. Inside, a room with curtains drawn. Tea has just been made. A kettle still steams. Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat. The story about to be related is so unusual yet so terrifyingly plausible that it demands to be told in a single sitting. The man clears his throat, and leans forward, expectant. 

‘Shall we begin?’ says the cat.

I must admit, the dustjacket picture didn’t particularly lure me – I thought it a little bit whimsical, and feared something which might be chocolate box cutesy humour funny-ish.

But of course, I know Truss is sharp, dry and pithily rather than fluffilly funny.

The story is dedicated to a friend who likes ‘proper’ horror stories, so, clearly this is going to be some sort of tickle your funny bone with horror mixture. (And more)

Okay, to try and lure you, o reader. Your cast of characters includes the above-mentioned talking cat (and another), an endearing dog (more of whom I must not say in order to avoid a spoiler) except that he belongs to a couple of academic Cambridge University librarians and is called Watson, so is the butt of several jokes which will delight Sherlockians. Then there is the central human, recently bereaved, in a Norfolk holiday cottage, with his laptop, no internet access but a previously sent folder from a fellow librarian. There is an actor who is a little slow on the uptake.There are a good few bodies. There are copious classic literature references (our man is a librarian, after all) . There is academic and historical research into occult literature.

Even if you are remarkably unacquainted and uninterested in library stacks, Victorian fiction, the history of occultism, Egyptology, demonology or preconceptions about cats and dogs, this book will I think be a page turning delight. Believe me. Our talking cat doesn’t do chat, for example, but masters cryptic crosswords and is highly supercilious (and other things)

Don't mess wid me, punk

Don’t mess wid me, punk

As for the dedication to the friend who likes ‘proper’ horror stories, suffice it to say that in bed early in the morning, having fed the cats, and enjoying my breakfast cuppa, with a cat nestling cosily beside me I read this (I have made a few excisions to avoid spoilers)

 The exceptional cats…..aren’t the product of some sort of miracle…..they just haven’t degenerated the way all the others have….this explains such a lot about cat behaviour….When they hiss at us, you can tell that they really expect us to fall over and die…because that is what used to happen. So when we stand there, unharmed, and laughing in their faces, they’re completely miffed…..they’re conscious of having lost their ability to do serious evil, and they feel bloody humiliated

At which point, cosy nestling cat began to talk….”Mrr…Mhaa…Mmmaaaahhr”  and I must admit I had a slight ‘hairs up’ moment at the timing, and she continued to utter short little cat exclamations for no reason I could discern. Then she climbed onto my lap, gazed at me seriously, as she is wont to do, and began kneading and purring. I read on….

You know the way cats do that trampling sort of thing on your lap……It was how cats used to kill people by pretending to be friendly and then severing their femoral arteries! Purring was the way they sent people into a trance…..

Upon which, I discreetly (not wanting to anger her) but purposefully got up and had a shower.

There is so much to enjoy in this, and I hope that I have persuaded you to read it, on publication. Believe me, this is nothing like any of those wonderful, but whimsical Paul Gallico cat books, and DEFINITELY nothing like the ‘spiritual’ fluffy cat books currently in vogue

I did feel that the final section managed the balance of horror and humour rather less well – the detecting and investigation part of the story was terrific, but the inevitable confrontation between antagonists, once deduction has happened, did see my extreme enjoyment wane a bit. I felt Truss was rather better at slow set up than at rapid action.

Overall though, I absolutely recommend this

PS Any one interested in giving a home to 3 extremely good natured cats? I don’t THINK any of them know how to read emails. Well I hope not. Was that scratching behind the wainscoting………..?

Oh – and finally, such is the authenticity of Truss’s writing that even though I know (don’t I?) that this IS a fantasy, I was interested in seeing what had been thrown up in the research, and Googled some of the named characters and search terms cited by our academician and found……….(well, that would be telling, and maybe YOU will just have to see for yourself!)

PPS Aficionados of Truss’s’ grammatical works: any crimes of MY grammar and Truss_Lynne_Photopunctuation above, are to be deplored. Please DON’T tell Truss about my linguistic offences.

Cat Out Of Hell Amazon UK
Cat Out Of Hell Amazon USA

(A post blog publication edit. Kudos to WordPress’s ‘similar posts’ widget which paired this book with a couple of very sensible fiction ‘fellow travellers’, especially a Shirley Jackson book……but the third, which made me laugh hugely, was a non-fiction book about 150 birds of Britain and Ireland. Given the title of the book reviewed above, make that 149,148,147……..)