Vacuum and Spaces: Falling into Space in Pever X’s Cat Eyes
- Title: Cat Eyes
- Author: Pever X
- Publisher: NWS Publishers
- Number of pages: 263
- Year of publication: 2014
- Category: Fiction
‘In a full heart, there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing’. – Antonio Porchia
Pever X’s first novel, Cat Eyes, is one of the flagship novels of the Nigerian Writers’ Series (NWS) – a reenactment of the defunct African Writers’ Series by Heinemann – by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), and first runner-up for the 2013 ANA Prize for Prose Fiction. It chronicles the psychological journey of Pededoo Boor Jnr, who struggles with a cocktail of emotions when his father returns home from a protracted stay in America. His father is accompanied by Adelaide and Melissa-Jane Sanders, whose presence and feline-coloured eyes fuel the flames of indignation roiling within him.
The absence of a father figure is a space that he acknowledges his uncle, Mensah, is reluctant to fill. This leaves a yawning vacuum within him. He fills this paternal vacuum with anger and indifference, reinforced even more by the Sanders whom he perceives, through myopia, as a threat.
But the following questions come to mind: what kind of emotion is deemed appropriate by a son towards a father who has been absent all his life? A man who suddenly appears with a pair of strangers in tow, and is doted on by everyone, especially his mother, towards whom he feels protective.
Is it betrayal, detachment or resentment when he is uncertain how to channel his feelings about the two strangers he assumes are his father’s new family, and therefore a threat to his mother’s position? And what about the perfect family reunion he had long pictured in his mind’s eye?
Reminiscent of a typical bildungsroman, Cat Eyes evokes Pededoo’s motives, ruminates on the most suitable course of action for him to take, and explores how he turns out. His inner conflicts shape the plot and allow the reader to observe his evolution. This realist approach resembles a nesting doll as the author uncovers the growth of a protagonist who is altered by his environment and the rationale for his actions.
Pededoo’s first shock on meeting his father is that he is not his father’s spitting image as he has been led to believe, which drives him to hasty assertions. ‘But now, I didn’t feel such affinity and kinship towards someone I hardly knew’. He insists, ‘I should know my dad, right? So what’ (p 14)? He further buttresses this when he declares that he would rather meet his late grandfather than the man before him. Thus, self-discovery becomes the central motif of the novel.
Set in an idyllic countryside in Tiv land in present-day Benue State, Nigeria, the novel tells the story of the Boor family in the immediate aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War. Named after his father, Pededoo Kwame Boor Snr, Pededoo shares the same zest for knowledge as his progenitor. This is the same hunger that drove his father far from home, leaving a gaping chasm that causes his mother to try and truncate his education lest he do the same and leave her brokenhearted all over again. However, he resists. First, he employs a cleric from the Catholic Mission, Father Bennett. When that fails, he duplicates the key to his father‘s library and becomes quite the Renaissance man. He reads, voraciously, the classics: ‘In under a year, [he’d] read close to a hundred books’.
Pever X cleverly uses flashback, interior monologue and stream-of-consciousness to give depth and purpose to Pededoo’s character, allowing the reader unlimited access to his thought processes. The juxtaposition between what Pededoo knows and what he feels is the tension on which the novel’s elucidatory irony turns, nowhere more so than in the scene where he assumes that the letter being read contains news of his father’s marriage to Adelaide, Melissa-Jane’s mother, when he observes how Father Bennett’s face blanches. He turns out to be wrong but the assumption nevertheless makes him impertinent towards the Sanders. Yet, he pines for Melissa-Jane after she leaves despite deliberately hurting her while she was there.
Throughout the novel, a celebration of racial consciousness is evident. The author espouses the notions of African identity that are rooted in the Négritude movement of Léopold Sédar Senghor and other francophone nationalists who eulogise the African spirit in the motto, ‘Black is Beautiful’. This is projected through Pededoo’s statements:
So what if she called me ‘Black-boy’? That was only stating the obvious. Besides, I was black and proud and would always prefer my ebony skin to hers (pp 113-114).
All African names have deep meaning, just like my name. Pededoo means a good place, like heaven, like Africa, like Tiv land, like Boor (p 31).
It is also seen in the pride of the African in the cultural and physical aspects of his heritage: the folktales of Alôm, the hare; the legend of Jor-Boor’s origin, healing properties and desecration; evocations of the An’ger, the zebra-striped Tiv traditional attire; the sense of nationalism. This sense of nationalism is evident in the reference to Tiv, one of the major ethnic groups in the middle belt region of Nigeria, as a country and sovereign nation, suggesting notions of a separatist Tiv to the mind of the reader.
The sacredness and tranquility of Jor-Boor, a spring once famed for its panacean properties before it was defiled, sets up a contrast with the mythical river Styx, metaphorised as the yearnings for a father figure. Pededoo sails on the river of loneliness by burying his head in the solitude of his father’s library, despite his mother’s imposed restraint on scholarship, which is paradoxical to her appreciation of his skill as an amateur painter.
Cat Eyes almost jeopardises its riveting aesthetic through the cliché of boy meets girl, boy becomes amorously smitten into indecisiveness on what he feels: subtly egged on by the object of his attraction, Melissa-Jane, Pededoo rides on the hackneyed trifles of Mills and Boon romance and his own magniloquence. However, it is the playfulness of the author’s simple language and the inquisitiveness with which he explores the human condition that give the book its alluring charm.
Written as an exposé into the intrigues of the human mind, Pever X uses the impressionability of the junior Pededoo as a canvas for colourful strokes and images that show that Pededoo is not alone in his confusion. There is a need to question our realities, emotions, sensibilities and existence.
Photograph: ‘Abhorrent vacuum’ by Sheila Ryan.
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