The Cat Who is a novel series of twenty-nine stories written by Lillian Braun with the first story, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, being published in 1966. Braun wrote the novels at a time when readers were hungry for a different style of writing that was more involving and entertaining. However, Braun’s stories were challenged by the new preference for sex and violence in mystery novels forcing her to sideline the series for 18 years. She came back with a hit story, The Cat Who Saw Red, in 1986 with the same style and elements as the previous stories. Braun successfully grasped the attention of readers by using the narrative style of writing that saw her engage readers through see-through narration that helped readers create images of the stories. Her stories showed consistency in form and elements used despite having set aside the series for almost a decade. Braun wrote the novel series with the narrative style and utilized components such as characterization, setting, imagery, genre, and personification to support her style of writing.
Braun managed to write all twenty-nine stories based on three significant characters despite having taken a long break from writing. Her consistency was primarily aided by the use of the three main characters, James Mackintosh Qwilleran, Koko, and Yum Yum.
- James Mackintosh Qwilleran
Qwilleran is the main character who is introduced at the beginning of the first story. Braun starts the sequence by showing Qwilleran as a former prizewinning reporter who seems to come back to the journalism field after disappearing a while back (Braun (b), 3). Qwilleran comes back as a feature writer for the Daily Fluxion to write about art and interior design. He takes the job even though he has no idea or interest in art, which may be the main reason he wanders off to solve mysteries in his town.
Qwilleran is seen to be somewhat active before becoming a journalist seeing that he first joined the service and broke his knee, thus making him unable to achieve his dream of playing baseball. He later went to college and found he was a natural journalist. Qwilleran easily wrote stories for the newspaper due to his natural writing skills, which earned him several awards. Braun portrays Qwilleran as an individual who ventured into various fields before landing on journalism as drawn from her own experiences, which made it easy to bring out her use of narrative style.
Braun incorporates the narrative style with the use of characterization as she describes Qwilleran as a good listener, and as a man full of curiosity that feeds his desire to investigate things that are far from his business. Braun uses the narrative style to describe Qwilleran as a middle-aged man who gets along well with people. Qwilleran has a unique mustache that helps in his investigations, aided as well by his cats. Qwilleran is left with two Siamese cats and interprets the cats’ actions as clues to solve the mysterious murders in his town.
Braun depicts Qwilleran as a man who has had bad days, especially as an alcoholic but managed to sober up and start life anew. Braun uses the character to uplift readers who may be experiencing difficulties in life by showing that one can find redemption and indulge in something such as mystery-solving that will give them a new purpose in life.
Braun’s narrative style drives her into using characters that are beyond the readers’ imagination by making the cat Koko as one of the main characters. Braun manages to make cats a point of interest through the use of narrative style. The unique characters drawn from cats inspired other writers to develop a subgenre of cat mysteries. Koko is a sophisticated pet that has desires that are unlikely for animals. Koko has a distinct preference for classy and lavish things and shows uttermost detest for anything that does not meet his sophisticated standards. Koko’s sophistication makes him only eat high-class meals such as lobster and chicken, forcing Qwilleran to provide for such expensive meals (Fox).
Braun’s successful use of narrative style enabled her to maintain the typical behaviors of cats rather than personifying them into human beings. Koko is described as the cat with always right intuition that he brings out through healthy cat behaviors such as digging up pieces of evidence or random yowls. He proves courageous for a cat when he defends Qwilleran from assailants on several occasions. Like his owner, Koko has a super “mustache” that is made up of 60 whiskers, which makes him unique seeing that most cats have a total of 48 whiskers. Koko is a bonus in the team even though sometimes Qwilleran fails to see the clues.
iii. Yum Yum
Yum Yum is also an extraordinary character seeing that he is also a cat. She is different from Koko in simple ways seeing that she is more affectionate and calmer. Yum Yum does not show any extraordinary abilities, unlike Koko, but Braun uses the narrative style to paint her as a significant character. Yum Yum becomes closer to both Koko and Qwilleran, seeing that she is also Siamese despite playing no vital role in solving the mysteries. Yum Yum’s character plays a major role in the writing of The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern, where the narrative style is used to show how she came into Qwilleran’s life.
Braun narrates how Yum Yum’s previous owners used to mistreat her to the extent of not naming her. Her previous owners were ignorant of her despite being rich people making Qwilleran adopt her (Braun (a), 208). Yum Yum is an addition to the detective crew and was mainly adopted to keep Koko company. She proves valuable through her abilities to do simple things such as opening drawers and operating switches. She is a simplified element of the group seeing that she does not have extreme demands, unlike Koko.
The narrative style brings out the importance of simple things and people in an individual’s life. Braun uses Yum Yum to show how what other people disregard can become essential and beneficial when placed in the right hands. The narrative style simplifies Yum Yum into an adorable character that may not play a significant role in the mystery-solving but plays a role in balancing the trio. Braun narrates how Yum Yum had slightly crossed eyes but maintains that she was adorable and a valuable part of the crew.
Braun’s use of setting brings out her use of the narrative style of writing. The novel is set in the fictitious town of Pickax in Moose County that seems to have numerous homicides. The setting contributes to making her stories realistic, seeing that she manages to give a fictitious town practical characteristics drawing from her memory and experiences. She uses her knowledge of regional history and traditions to develop a place that is sufficiently unique for her compelling stories.
Braun starts the story The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare by describing that in “Moose County four hundred miles north of everywhere, it always starts to snow in November and it snows-and snows-and snows” (Braun (c), 1) Braun narrates how snowy the town becomes and utility poles become shorter until the poles are short enough for limbo dancing. The narrative style effectively merges with the element of setting to effectively paint a picture for the readers of the environment in which the characters are. Braun describes Pickax as a town plagued by mysterious deaths and accidents that keep emerging even when a previous murder is unsolved building on the plot and the use of the narrative style.
The setting is consistent in all the twenty-nine stories to aid in the style of narration as the consistency makes it easier for Braun to build on the plot of the story using a place that the readers are already familiar with. The consistent setting also helps Braun to have a flowing narration that is traceable throughout the series. The simplicity in the setting is a tool Braun uses to effortlessly capture the reader by instilling interest to uncover how a small town can have so many unsolvable mysteries.
Imagery is one of the elements that Braun utilizes throughout the novel series. Braun uses most if not all, aspects of imagery to build on every story. The novel uses similes as a form of imagery in all the stories. Every story shows usage of similes with the first story, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, describing canvases that covered the studio by describing them as portraits of small boys and girls with curly hair and cheeks like red apples. This helps the reader imagine how the paintings looked like without actually having been in the studio. The similes used in the stories are a crucial element in the use of the narrative style of writing that gives readers an accurate idea of what the author is describing. Similes use comparisons that readers may be familiar with such as the cat surveying the irregular stacks of boxes to a mountain goat contemplating Mount Rushmore in The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal.
Descriptive words are a part of the imagery that Braun effectively uses seeing that almost the whole stories are developed through the element. Braun wrote every word of her novel to describe either the characters’ actions or the surroundings of the characters adding to her narrative style. The descriptive words can be seen when Braun describes how much snow the town experiences from November. Braun explains that it snows heavily to the extent of turning utility poles into dancing poles. The most prevalent form of descriptive words is used to describe the activities of the cats from sleeping, eating, frolicking, and making throaty purrs. Braun’s stories have been criticized for excessively concentrating on the lives of the felines by giving unnecessary descriptions of activities such as how the cats spit up fur balls.
The imagery helps Braun create emphasis whenever necessary seeing that some aspects of the story require emphasis through making the reader easily imagine how a situation looked like by describing the things and activities taking place while engaging both visual and olfactory senses of the reader. Imagery helps bring the story to life by making the reader a part of the story.
Braun chose a specific genre to go in line with her narrative style, seeing that her novel was made up of different stories with entirely different mysteries. Her choice of genre allowed her to easily use the narrative form since the genre demands the author to describe every event and scene in the story correctly and wholesomely for the reader to create clear images of the storyline (Rimmon-Kenan, 17). Braun wrote the novel at a time when the genre was at its best because of the unique narration of events in fictitious settings. This is highlighted in Pickax through narrations of occurences and behaviors that were utterly unheard of in the society. The genre ignited the imagination of the authors as they narrated what seemingly perfect societies were hiding and acted as a skeleton to some reader’s point of view on some of the burning issues in the community. Braun dug deep into the genre, seeing that she did not stop her narration at identifying the prevalent homicides in the town but went a step further by turning her regular main characters into detectives.
Braun was driven to use the narrative style of writing to be able to achieve the standards the society had set and demanded in their mystery novels. Her unique narrative style that involved the use of super active felines as major characters created a mystery subgenre that inspired many more authors, especially animal lovers, to freely turn their pets into characters that played the role of detective as good as the human characters. The narrative style allowed the subgenre to flourish, seeing that it described the lives and habits of cats in a way that cat owners agreed with and pet lovers adored. The narrative style also captured the imagination of those who had no pets due to the detailed images Braun painted throughout her narration.
Braun incorporates the element of personification specifically in the titles of her stories. Braun was careful not to turn her cats into supernatural beings that could do things close or beyond human abilities. She narrated the stories using normal cat activities such as eating, sleeping, and spitting up fur balls that their owner, Qwilleran, translated as clues that helped in the solving of the mysteries. However, her style of writing allowed her to trick the readers using catchy titles that made readers curious to see how a cat could do some of the things speculated in the titles.
Braun kicks off the series with an intriguing title, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards that makes the readers interested in finding out how a cat could not only read but also read things backward which was beyond normal even for a human being. The title of her tenth story, The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts, was also engaging seeing that the title instilled a desire in the readers of knowing how the cat had the super ability to see and talk to ghosts. The Cat Who Moved a Mountain was amongst the catchy titles that used personification to create an image of a cat with supernatural strength when all along, like in all other stories, the cat was somewhat normal.
Braun, Lilian Jackson (a). The cat who ate Danish modern. Vol. 2. Penguin, 1967.
Braun, Lilian Jackson (b). The Cat Who Could Read Backwards. Vol. 1. Penguin, 1986.
Braun, Lilian Jackson (c). The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare. Vol. 7. Penguin, 1988.
FOX, M. (2011, June 7). Lilian Jackson Braun, ‘Cat Who’ Writer, Dies at 97. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/books/lilian-jackson-braun- cat-who-writer-dies-at-97.html
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative fiction: Contemporary poetics. Routledge, 1983.