Books and reading

For all cat lovers: ‘Mickey’ by Helen Brown

When I received this book to review, I wasn’t sure if it was a good fit. After all, I’m not what you’d call a cat person. I don’t dislike cats, but I don’t always gravitate towards them as true ‘cat people’ do. (A certain Queensland based fluffy Birman gentleman cat might be the exception here.)

I needn’t have worried. Mickey is certainly about a cat – a stray tiger-striped kitten with extra toes who entered the author’s life in 1960’s New Zealand – but as the book’s subtitle suggests, it’s much more than a ‘cat story.’

Mickey becomes The cat who helped me through times of change by being a silent yet steadfast companion through the author’s early teen years, in an era of enormous personal, family, and social and political changes.

The author has woven the story of her relationship with Mickey, into the broader fabric of her rather eccentric family life, the idiosyncrasies of her neighbourhood and small town community, and her growing awareness of the wider world around her.

As a child of the 1960’s in a small rural community, I resonated with some of the descriptions in the book. Helen’s mum, for example, sewing and knitting garments for her family, as a cost saving measure but also a way to show her love for them. The agony of embarrassment at being fitted for a first bra. The sense of loss as older sibling grow up or move away. The ‘hollow art of waiting’ in a world in which it was impossible to communicate with each other at the tap of a screen. The unease generated by living in the nuclear age, thinly veiled but still apparent amongst adults. And of course, a war being fought somewhere in the world, reflected on TV screens and in the papers – in this case, the war in Vietnam which took away New Zealander and Australian young men at the very beginning of their adult lives.

The author describes these and more, with the most memorable scenes being those featuring her unconventional family: her father’s visions for the future development of natural gas as an energy source, her mother’s obsession with the local musical theatre productions, her older brother’s fascination with taxidermy. They are characters drawn beautifully and with great affection.

But of course Mickey the cat is the star of the book, and here the author’s deep love for and intuitive understanding of cats shines:

Felines don’t give a hiss about the materialistic obsessions that make people miserable. They live in the gaps, observing energies between themselves and other beings, offering affection when it suits them… A feline is never fully tamed. Maintaining its connection to the wild, it refuses to be bossed around or trained to sit like a dog. The cat is seldom open to bribery. When it offers trust, the gift is more precious than the first camellia of spring.

Mickey p91

I am pretty certain that cat lovers will adore this book. But even cat-neutral people, like me, will enjoy its gentle telling of a coming-of-age story and its depictions of a world that is, in many essential ways, no longer with us.

Mickey is published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia in May 2024.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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