Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Blitzcat by Robert Westall - historical fiction about an intrepid cat during WWII

Title: Blitzcat
Author: Robert Westall
Publication: Scholastic, hardcover, 1989
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Setting: WWII Britain
Description: A black cat, named after Lord Gort, pines for her owner when he joins the RAF, and resents the new baby Geoff’s wife, Florrie Wensley, fusses over instead of her. Sensing strongly that Geoff is somewhere, she sets off to find him. Making her own incredible journey, the cat experiences hardship but also kindness from those who take her in and give her a temporary home as she marches determinedly along. In turn, the cat develops an unerring premonition of danger and saves her temporary guardians from bombs and certain death in other situations. Westall does a wonderful job at conveying the horror of war coexisting with life on the homefront, and the power of a pet to brighten even the darkest times and soften the toughest individuals.

My Impression: The book begins when local authorities come after innocent Florrie Wensley concerning a telegram she sent about Lord Gort. Gort was best known for commanding the British Expeditionary Force that was sent to France in the first year of the Second World War, and was evacuated from Dunkirk the following year. However, Florrie’s husband Geoff had irreverently given his kitten that name, which eventually upsets the military censors. Now an intrepid cat, Lord Gort has taken off, determined to find Geoff, relying on her psi (psychic) trailing power. However, Geoff is flying back and forth to France so is hard to find. The cat’s efforts take her all over England, encountering challenges along the way:
He was sipping tea from his Thermos when he saw the cat limping up the turf towards him. His first thought was that black cats were lucky. But through his binoculars she didn’t look very lucky. She looked thin, beaten, furtive and her fur was staring.

He had no feelings about cats, one way or another. But she was an event in the monotony. Company.
Westall explains that he lived through WWII and relied on real events as the backdrop to the cat’s story although he moved them around slightly. Using psi trailing as part of the plot adds a fantasy element to the story. And it is definitely a young adult rather than a children’s novel with some adult situations. Moreover, this is not a cuddly cat story. This cat’s personality changes due to the hardships she experiences. Being desperate for food forces her to adapt and become aggressive.  At the beginning, she just longs for the attention she got from her person:
She remembered riding about on his shoulder, while his gentle hands caressed her. She remembered the game in the garden, where he lay hidden in the long grass, and flicked his white handkerchief while she stalked him. Then she would pounce on him, and they would roll over and over in mock fury, until the ecstasy of his nearness grew too much for her, and she would scamper off, her back twitching with too much pleasure.
This is a writer who knows his cats! When she finally returns home, she is larger, has a mangled ear, and seems much older – despite these changes, Geoff recognizes her, and she is ready to settle down and become an ordinary cat again.
Source: Library. Recommended to cat lovers and historical fiction fans. This is my fifth book for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at the Intrepid Reader.


Jerri said...

wow, that sounds like quite a book. I will have to see if I can manage to locate a copy.

Laura@RBA said...

I like the hook of the novel but I don't think I can bear to read about this cat. It breaks my heart when pets are outdoors for any reason.

TracyK said...

I think I want to read this book but I will have to look into it more. You know I love to read about cats.

Sorry I took so long to comment.

CLM said...

Have you done a post on your favorite cat mysteries, Tracy?

Jerri, this was an odd but charming book. I am fascinated by books about the WWI and WWII homefront and this did not disappoint.

Laura, there are some troubling incidents but this cat survives and thrives, and while she becomes hardened, the implication at the end is that she is just delighted to be reunited with her person and stick to home in the future.

TracyK said...

I don't think I have read that many books about cats, Constance, that is why I get excited about them. I have been thinking about a post about my favorite books about nuns and monks and such... since I just recently finished reading Murder in the Nunnery. Which you motivated me to buy.

CLM said...

I hope you liked it!

TracyK said...

I did like Murder in a Nunnery, very much. I will be looking for a copy of More Murder in a Nunnery.

Marg said...

Thanks for sharing this review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.