THE CATSWOLD PORTAL by Shirley Rousseau Murphy


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Longish first novel about a magical world where cats change to people and back again, from a veteran children's author. In 1957 San Francisco, successful painter Braden West mourns the recent death of his wife, Alice. He has an important show coming up but is too depressed to work. Meanwhile, he's mysteriously drawn, as was his wife, to a vivid sculpture of cats carved into the door of his house--a sculpture that turns out to be the portal into the cat world, through which he is drawn. But the bulk of the story is given over to 17-year-old Melissa, a farm girl and then a scullery maid, whose real heritage as the ""Queen of faerie"" has been hidden from her through black magic. So off she goes on a perilous, not very original quest. As in fairy tale, there's a wicked queen, who at one point turns Melissa into a tiny calico cat. West joins Melissa in their quest, and they fall in love, a subplot with all the variety of a genre romance. And, of course, West has found his Alice again, more or less. Murphy is often lyrical, but she leans too heavily on the conventions laid down by C.S. Lewis, Anne McCaffrey, and Andre Norton. The most interesting writing here is in fact the cat lore, which Murphy seems to know everything there is to know about and which she associates with what might be called the archetypal female. The interweaving between real and fantasy worlds is well done; the implied notion, intriguing if arguable, is that women are like cats inside--cool, independent, and a bit mystical. Murphy needs to leave her mentors behind, and the love story's a trifle soggy. But, still, she's a writer to watch.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: ROC/Penguin