In 2008, I had the incredible good fortune to be assigned to interview Doris Lessing for the Wall Street Journal.
I had been moved and amazed by some of her novels when I was in my impressionable twenties (does anyone read Martha Quest anymore? They should). So Lessing was already a deity to me when, in 2007, she was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. The following year, I called her in London to talk about her new book, On Cats, which had just been published in the U.S.
That was my other stroke of luck: I didn’t have to ask her about world peace, apartheid or gender politics. Our subject was cats. After about an hour of intense conversation, I thanked Lessing for her time and said goodbye. I believe she would have kept talking about cats for as long as I was willing to listen. Below are excerpts of our conversation.
CC: Do you have cats now?
Ms. Lessing: I have a very difficult cat named Yum-Yum. Her previous owner treated her badly and dumped her. When she turned up here she was five years old.
She was enormously scared and spent most of a year under my sofa. It took a long
time for her to be a reasonably normal cat. Most cats are warm and kind, on the whole. Yum-Yum had none of that.
I’m guessing none of your cats has ever had a diamond-studded collar.
No! I’ve never had a posh cat. But one of the cats that was born here, El Magnifico, never understood that there were cats less privileged than him.
What about dogs?
I love dogs. I very much regret not having dogs, but in the city they often have a pretty bad time. Dogs have to have an energetic and physical life. Cats are perfectly happy never doing anything.
Why do you hate to spay your cats?
Having kittens makes female cats warm and nice and friendly. Yum-Yum was done Continue reading