REVIEW: The Story of Fester Cat (Paul Magrs)

festerBook review by Iris the wolf, aged 1 and 3/4.

I don’t understand humans. There’s a perfectly good ball, and a perfectly good bone, and most of a perfectly good rope, and what do they do? They sit and stare at things all day long. Computer screens. Weird square things they hold on their knees and swat me away from when I paw at them. Books.

I really don’t understand books. I tried staring at one once – the expensive one in Matt’s study that I pulled down because it smelled musty and delicious. I stared and stared and nothing much happened, so I ate most of the outside. He wasn’t very happy when he found it.

I’m getting distracted. Sorry. Back to the square things. Something Matt called a Kindle. He’s been staring at it all day, and then every hour or so putting it down and running over to hug me. I don’t take well to hugs. I’m a wolf.

Okay, sometimes I take well to hugs. But I’m still a wolf.

Whatever he’s doing with this staring, he seems to have finished, because he’s put the grey square thing down. I bring him the ball and wag my tail — fetch time! — but then I notice something. That grey square thing must have been really sad because he looks like I look when he goes to the shop without me, and he’s crying. Out of nowhere, he grabs me, flips me upside down and wraps me up in a big hug.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but I want to know, so when they’re not looking I sneak up to the grey square thing, pick it up gently with my mouth and go and hide it in my bed. Then later, when they’re both snoring away, I nose the button until it switches on, and I have a look at what he’s been staring at.

It’s something called The Story of Fester the Cat.

Not a promising start. I don’t like cats. I’m a wolf.

So, this book seems to be about a cat. In fact, it’s written by a cat (How? Has anyone asked about that? But then, I’m a wolf reading a Kindle, who am I to judge?) This Fester is a bedraggled stray who one day walks into the garden of two men, Paul and Jeremy, in a Manchester suburb, and sticks around until they adopt him into the family. I think I can see why Matt would like this story — after all, he and John have adopted me, and when they pick me up and subject me to those awful hugs that I hate so much, they say words like ‘family’ and ‘pack’? I don’t know why that would make them sad.

Except that in the beginning (which is really the end, but it’s at the beginning, because this cat is quite a clever writer, I think) poor Fester gets taken to the hairdresser which is really a vet and then he dies. Sometimes they take me to the vet. Am I going to die?

This makes me very sad, and I pad downstairs and claw the carpet for awhile to cheer me up. Perhaps that was why Matt was crying. Him, John and me are the pack, and I think I’m going to die. How long have I got? It could be any second. When I was there last, the vet said he’d see us soon.

I hear a sound upstairs, and creep up to see what’s going on. Matt, unable to sleep, has gotten up and gone to his office at the back of the house. He’s very proud of his office; it’s like a nest made out of books. I like the smell. He’s sat in front of the computer, typing something. I put my head on his knee, and read what he’s written.

Review: The Story of Fester the Cat – Paul Magrs

You could argue that The Story of Fester Cat is the final perfect meld of the magical and the mundane in the patented Magrs style–

(I’ve read the biography. This cat seems to have written quite a few other books. It’s a very prolific cat.)

but that’s not really the point of this book. This feels like a book that sprang straight onto the page with the full force of necessity, simultaneously urgent and unhurried. It would have been really easy for a story narrated by a cat to have all the depth of an internet meme or a youtube pet video, but it’s following in a fine literary tradition and circumnavigating around that nonsense. Imagine Tuesdays With Morie, but feline: sentiment without a cloying sense of emotional manipulation. And as for the voice of Fester, it’s very easy to forget it’s written by Paul himself, and not the cat…

I find this very confusing. Surely the book was written by Fester? This is really very strange–it’s up there with staring at the grey squares all day. How odd for humans to go around writing stories and pretending they’re animals. I’m sure Matt wouldn’t do anything as silly as writing a story pretending to be me. For a start, what would he know about being a wolf?

I look back at him on his computer. He’s hammering the delete key, and all the words he’s typed disappear. He slumps his chin on his hand. He looks thoughtful, like I do when I’m chewing a bone and thinking about how long its been since I went to the park, or chewed a coathanger, or played rat. Then he starts typing again, and I shuffle closer. He notices me, and keeps typing with his right hand while scratching behind my ear with his left hand, which I like, so I don’t pay attention to what he’s writing for a minute. When I do, he’s written another, different, paragraph.

It’s hard to review this book without feeling as if it was written specifically for me, which is ludicrous, because there are demonstrably plenty of people out there who actually knew Fester in person, and in character. Facebook on the day of the final visit to the ‘hospital’ was filled with statuses — and we’re British; apart from Princess Di, we don’t do public sadness.  But this book is full of touchstones and resonances that it was hard not to relate: the Manchester suburb with its soap-like dramas and the ‘gays’ in the end house; the old friends whose big-city horizons have diverged; the familiar phrase ‘oh, you could make this house so nice…’ as you’re trying to pull together your own sense of home; and, of course, the feeling that a wordless, furry friend trotting about the house is indescribably making the two men in this little terrace into a family. They say that books turn up at the right time in your life, and this–

Stop. He’s deleting again. I don’t know why, I thought it was quite good. But I’m only a dog, I don’t know these things, I suppose.

Did I say dog? I meant wolf. I am a wolf, most definitely, raised in the frozen wilds of Eccles, before the boys brought me all the way here, to their home in Salford.

He’s started typing again:

If nothing else, The Story of Fester the Cat may have given the literary world its first transgender cat.

What?

I’m confused for a minute, and then I remember Bessie, with the bollocks. I liked her. I think we would have gotten on. Transgender? Who knew. Still, I’m an inclusive wolf, I’m down with gender politics.

For some reason, he’s deleting it again. No wonder he never finishes writing his novel if he keeps on at it like this.

I’ve been having trouble writing a review because it’s so easy to forget this is actually a book, and not just a story being told to me by the cat curled on a wicker chair in the sun next to me. I’m not ashamed to admit that I sniffled my way through the start and end of the book–

(I’m ashamed for him though. Wolves don’t cry.)

–because The Story of Fester the Cat is vivid and moving, and gripping in a way that’s quite hard to define. I’ve had so much trouble writing this review that I’ve started it four times, and it never quite says what it’s supposed to. Our Iris should have many, many more years before she needs to go visit the ‘hairdresser’–

(Oh, thank goodness. Now I won’t need to chew any more carpets in worry.)

–but I hope that when she goes, she’s left as indelible a mark as Fester has. But this still isn’t really a review is it? How shall I boil it down? Publicists like it to be short and pithy. How about: ‘A book that, upon reading the last page, will make you immediately rush to hug your pet.’ No. Trite. I can do better–

He’s stopped typing again, and I expect him to start punching the delete button, but instead he spun around, grabbed me around the middle and picked me up. I struggle because I am a wolf, dammit, and I don’t like hugs, I really don’t–until I’m on by back being cradled and Matt’s rubbing his face into my belly and I actually quite like that, so I suppose I’ll let him hug me. But there’ll be no more reading of books on the grey square thing if this is the sort of behaviour he’s going to indulge in. A wolf mustn’t let her pets become unruly.

Still, it was quite a good book, I suppose. For one written by a cat anyway. Perhaps when they’re asleep next, I’ll bop the kindle on with my nose and have another read. Maybe I’ll even have a go at wrapping my mouth around that silly word again. How does it go?

Got it.

‘Ungow.’

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