Author: Helen Brown
Year of publishing: 2009
I read: the Swedish edition by Malmö Bokfabriken
Helen Brown wasn't a cat person, but her nine-year-old son Sam was. So when Sam heard a woman telling his mum that her cat had just had kittens, Sam pleaded to go and see them.
Helen's heart melted as Sam held one of the kittens in his hands with a look of total adoration. In a trice the deal was done - the kitten would be delivered when she was big enough to leave her mother.
A week later, Sam was dead. Not long after, a little black kitten was delivered to the grieving family. Totally traumatised by Sam's death, Helen had forgotten all about the new arrival. After all, that was back in another universe when Sam was alive.
Helen was ready to send the kitten back, but Sam's younger brother wanted to keep her, identifying with the tiny black kitten who'd also lost her brothers. When Rob stroked her fur, it was the first time Helen had seen him smile since Sam's death. There was no choice: the kitten - dubbed Cleo - had to stay.
Kitten or not, there seemed no hope of becoming a normal family. But Cleo's zest for life slowly taught the traumatised family to laugh. She went on to become the uppity high priestess of Helen's household, vetoing her new men, terrifying visiting dogs and building a special bond with Rob, his sister Lydia, Helen - and later a baby daughter.
I put this book on my TBR not knowing what it was about. All I saw was a cute black kitten walking purposefully across the white cover. That was enough to get this cat lover's attention. A few weeks ago, I saw a pair of gigantic green eyes on the most adorable black face on a shelf at my library. It was Cleo. A different edition. In Swedish. Without hesitating, I swept the volume off the shelf before some other cat lover would beat me to the punch. Still, I had no idea what the book was about.
Then I read it.
Cleo is a great book. Helen tells her life story with such honesty and openness that you feel thankful that she lets you into her life and shares some of her deepest emotions. All the time that I was reading the book, I kept thinking that this is real. This is not fiction. Her son really died and there will be no magical fix in the end that will bring him back, or make the family's pain dissappear.
But real life has happiness in it as well as tragedy, and Helen and her family did move on eventually, leading an interesting life with its ups and downs.
She describes her friendship with some wonderful people who helped her deal with Sam's death by just being there. And by helping her take care of young Cleo.
When Cleo became the member of their family, not only did she turn the house upside down, making the family think about something else than the death of Sam, but her very presence brought Comfort into their life. Helen loved listening to Cleo's purr, and to stroke her soft fur. She also realised that she could learn something from the cat. To simplify things, to live in the moment, to love yourself - that's what Helen tried to learn from Cleo.
Cleo shatters every prejudice and misconception people hold against cats. The main proof is Helen herself, who didn't even like cats very much until Cleo. Cleo was an intelligent and kind animal, who loved her family.
And Helen Brown is an inspiration in every sense of the word. And she's a fantastic writer. I am looking forward to reading some of her other books - After Cleo: Came Jonah, and Tumbledown Manor, Helen's first fiction novel.
If you'r a cat person, read this book. If you're not a cat person, read this book. If you're not a book person, read it anyway.
My rating: 5