Monday, January 01, 2007

Blitzcat - Robert Westall

Robert Westall's Blitzcat is largely told from the cat's point of view, but it's not a fantasy tale as Westall doesn't use anthropomorphism; rather he presents the cat's behaviour and perspective from a detached enough point of view that anyone who knows cats will immediately recognise the authenticity of his descriptions. Lord Gort is a clever cat who runs away from her new home in order to find her person (a young married man named Geoff who's in the RAF), rather than be stuck with her person's wife and baby during the war. She uses "Psi trailing" - a documented phenomenon in which animals can find their way to their owner, even when they've never been to the place to which the owner has relocated - scientists still don't really understand how it works but they know that it does.

Lord Gort's travels around England in search of her person give Westall the opportunity to present different episodes in the lives of ordinary English people during the Second World War. So we spend time at a train depot, where Lord Gort is hailed as a good luck charm by soldiers returning on leave. She also lives for quite a while with a Sergeant whose division is quartered in a small town, and we see (from her perspective) a relationship develop between the lady of the house, whose officer husband is in Egypt, and the Sergeant. Lord Gort is also present at the bombing of Coventry, on the night that the Cathedral is destroyed. She (along with her kittens) leads two elderly horsemen, with their horses, and a train of people, out of the town during the Blitz, to the safety of the countryside where they settle on a farm. Then there's the account of a young war widow who is on the brink of a suicidal depression, but who is jolted by Lord Gort and one of her kittens (the others having remained on the outskirts of Coventry with the horsemen), somewhat against her will, back from the edge of suicide and into an involvement in life again. Then there's the RAF base, where she becomes an accidental flying mascot after climbing aboard a "Wimpey" and helps the rear-gunner to spot an incoming German bomber, which he is able to destroy. She spends a considerable amount of time flying missions with one of the crews, before the young rear-gunner bails out over France (taking Lord Gort with him). Eventually they both end up back in England, and she finally returns to her "person", who has returned to England himself.

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