Some people have a thing for cats, others adore books and many, myself included, happily fit within both camps. If there is a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf for cat books, then pride of place has to go to those written by Lynne Truss. In 2015, her brilliant ‘Cat Out of Hell‘ had its place secured on my best reads of the year by the end of the first chapter. When I saw that Truss had a sequel out in time for this winter I knew that, despite all evidence to the contrary, 2016 was going to contain some real highlights.
‘The Lunar Cats’ picks up some time after the dramatic events of ‘Cat Out of Hell’. Pedantic librarian, Alec Charlesworth and his faithful dog Watson are pottering through life, enjoying quiet pleasures and trying to avoid supernatural evil in general and demonic cats in particular. If ‘Cat Out of Hell’ was a horror comedy which took its cues from Edgar Allen Poe, ‘The Lunar Cats’ sets out a slightly different path, introduced by Alec’s quietly bumbling independent research into travel writings, especially those concerning Captain Cook’s first Tahiti expedition.
This was, of course, an added bonus for me, because 2016 has finally seen me break my habits of reading exclusively fiction and branch out into a bit of biography reviewing. Large chunks of ‘The Lunar Cats’ are spent re-telling adventures on the high seas, and all with a lovely dose of geeky expertise:
‘To any modern reader accustomed to contemporary norms of travel writing, eighteenth-century sea journals are astonishingly disappointing. Wherever you expect a bit of ‘colour’ there is no colour. Where you expect a climax, there is no climax. Anecdotes are buried, punchlines never come; all dialogue is reported and flattened in the process. After months at sea, the ship reaches its destination, and you have to keep checking the dates of the entries to be sure that the momentous arrival has really taken place. No wonder all the journals were handed over to a professional writer … but poor Hawkesworth was at a disadvantage in many ways when it came to writing it up. First, he hadn’t been there himself. And secondly, he was evidently an eighteenth-century landlubber essayist, accustomed to using a lot of abstract nouns, Latinate vocabulary, and costive constructions.’
When it comes to literary matters, no one is better than Truss!
I don’t want to mention too much of the plot for fear of spoilers, but it does include a demon kitten, a satanic idol, literally hellish bureaucracy and a long-established (cat only) club for scientific exploration. With some significant animal assistance, Alec and the gloriously incompetent Wiggy must race against time to foil the most evil of feline plots. The fact that the geographical hub of the action is the London borough of Bromley only adds to the mad-cap splendour of it all.
For all my reading resolutions this year, I am still more of a fan of the Gothic than of non-fiction, which is the reason I’ll give for not actually preferring ‘The Lunar Cats’ to ‘Cat Out of Hell.’ This didn’t stop me from laughing out loud nearly the whole way through reading though, the good news being that this time I was able learn from experience and not open the book on public transport. Instead I cleared a weekend to ensure I could properly enjoy this winter reading treat. I wasn’t going to put it off; besides badly needing cheering up as we reach the end of 2016, I had to find out if I should be recommending ‘The Lunar Cats’ as people start thinking about their Christmas present lists. I’m delighted to report success on both counts. Buy ‘Cat Out of Hell’, buy ‘The Lunar Cats’ and be prepared for a lot of laugher as the year comes to an end.