Berni Stapleton is a Newfoundland- Labrador writer and performer. She is a past recipient of the WANL award for best work in non-fiction for her contribution to the book They Let Down Baskets. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Riddle Fence and The Newfoundland Quarterly. She is a recent recipient of the Ambassador of Tourism Award from Hospitality NL. Her latest book is This is the Cat which was published in 2015 by Killick Press (now an imprint of Breakwater Books).
This is the Cat is a quietly comical novel about Bridie Savage, an introverted 40-ish woman who lives with two cats (Nikki and Nishi), a few family ghosts (Great Grandy Savage, Great Aunt Lenora and The Old Hag) and has two hookers (Jane and Marilyn) camped out down the lane from her house on Monastery Lane. The cats, it seems, have had quite a number of reincarnations over the millennia, even being owned by Shakespeare (“the Muttering Bard”) at one point. One of the cats (Nikki) has learned to type on Bridie’s computer and the chapters are interspersed with the cat’s thoughts and Bridie’s point of view of her quirky life. Bridie is a writer and performance actor who is out of work and has an ongoing email battle with Service Canada over her EI claim, which has apparently been exhausted. In an email to Service Canada she inquires:
“The fact that my EI claim has been declared exhausted is exhausting me whenever I try to comprehend what that means. Has My EI claim been working too hard of late? Has it been out larking around burning the candle at both ends? Does it have a happier and more active life than I do myself? If so, why do I know nothing about it?”
Naturally, cats and ghosts have a penchant for being most active at 3:00 in the morning, much to Bridie’s consternation. She emails her Great Aunt Biddy (who is not a ghost):
“If there is a secret Savage remedy for any of the ghostly ailments please pass them along. Also, I’m not sure, but I think I’m getting emails from one of my cats. What should I do?”
This is the type of unconventional humour that infuses This is the Cat. I found it a little disjointed at first, what with an old man dying (Great Uncle Beeswax), Bridie’s son Jack (“the Miracle Baby”) leaving on cruise to circumnavigate the globe, and a cat speaking/typing, but eventually the story works it way out of the craziness and even reading the cat’s writing gets more understandable. Cat owners will especially enjoy this book as they will get unexplainable cat behaviour explained to us by Nikki. Which is pretty funny, as Bridie herself would say.
Thoroughly readable and lighthearted, This is the Cat is suitable reading for young adult readers on up.