Reviewed by Chris Longmuir
This historical novel takes it’s name from the Cat and Mouse Act which was introduced in Britain in 1913, as a way of dealing with imprisoned suffragettes who were hunger striking. Prior to the enactment of this, the hunger strikers were force fed, which caused considerable embarrassment for the government.
Vicary’s novel is set in 1914, prior to the commencement of the First World War, and starts with one of the main characters, Sarah Beckett, slashing a painting of the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velasquez. Although Sarah Beckett is a fictional character, this part of the storyline was based on the real life slashing of the painting by the militant suffragette, Mary Richardson, and it was an effective way to start the novel.
However, this novel is much more complex than a retelling of the history of suffragettes in a work of fiction. There is also another storyline, following Sarah’s sister, Deborah Cavendish, who is trapped in a loveless marriage. This is set against a background of events in
and the struggles of the UVF against the British government.
I found this book exciting, suspenseful and intriguing. It was also thought provoking, following various issues of the day; the suffragette struggle, male domination, prostitution, child sexual abuse, homosexuality, the torture of force feeding, and German spies inciting the UVF to start a civil war in
If I had a criticism, it would be that the novel had a slow start, although there were some horrific scenes of force feeding. I got the impression that this part was laying the foundations of the suffragette struggle. However, once the story got going, it was a breathtaking read with lots of twists and turns, and the history became the backdrop rather than the main focus.
It was a brilliant and exciting read which I would unreservedly recommend.
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