So I mentioned the other day that one of Hubby’s random picks from the library was a book called The Blue Cat of Castle Town by Catherine Cate Coblentz. Ever heard of her, or the book? Me neither.
This book has an interesting back story. The author wrote it in the 1940s after making a visit to a Castleton, Vermont, where she learned some early nineteenth-century local history. She learned about the carpenter who built a church altar at great personal expense; the pewterer whose teapots were true works of art; the weaver who made a rug with a picture of a blue cat on it, a rug which is now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And she started wondering about those people, and especially about the blue cat. And she wove a story out of these disparate elements.
Now I have to say, the story feels like it was woven out of disparate elements. It doesn’t hang together well. It doesn’t have a tight plot: it’s episodic, there’s not a lot of action, and the separate characters don’t really interact with each other. The only thing that ties them together at all is the blue cat, who encounters them one by one. But that is okay, because the point of the story isn’t to create suspense. The point is to create a mood, a feeling, a sense of time and place. And that it does, in spades! The author was also a poet, and that comes through loud and clear. The story is one big prose poem. Here’s a taste:
He meant to listen very carefully. But the voice of the river was gentle and slow. The cat settled down and closed his eyes so the light of the blue moon on the waters should not distract him. And almost at once he began to sink deeper and deeper into the dark velvet softness of a kitten’s sleep.
But the river was too busy telling its secrets to notice.
The story does feel dated. The religious overtones are not subtle, and it’s quite preachy in an old-fashioned “well begun is half done” and “idle hands are the devil’s playground” kind of way. And you get things like the mother cat cuffing her kitten because she’s feeling “cross,” which the author mentions off-handedly, in a manner that would not go over well today. These things, though, I can live with. When a book reads like a big prose poem I can forgive a lot. I’m not a big reader of children’s books, and I am especially not a big reader of children’s books that feature talking animals, but I must admit I’m intrigued by this writer. She wrote several other books, including historical fiction about a group of pilgrims. I’ll be on the lookout.