At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to write a very deep review of Simon’s Cat vs The World. After all, what can one say about something that is, ultimately, an all-ages picture book? I thought, I’m going to review this just because I know I’m already going to miss my reading goal for this year, but damned if I’m not going to use a picture book to get me that much closer. Then I realized Ben the Literature Snob was rearing his ugly head once again: how dare I be so biased? This isn’t a picture book. It’s a satirical graphic novella about the relationship between an owner and his very independent, very spirited feline! It deserves serious review and critique!
Let’s do this.
Simon’s Cat vs The World opens with the usual shenanigans: Simon’s cat tries to get at birds, climbs too high on a stack of boxes, tears a hole in Simon’s tent, etc. We have the usual reluctance to go for walks, go to the vet, or basically do anything we want the cat to do. As the story progresses, the cat manifests multiple schemes against other anthropomorphized animals—dogs and doves, hedgehogs and rabbits and mice. Sometimes these animals are allies, sometimes they are foes who lay their own traps for the cat, and sometimes they are neutral, disinterested parties. Truly, Tofield captures the ever-shifting nature of animal relationships. Left alone, they might be predators and prey—but in the face of human intervention, they can work together to achieve interesting results.
The adage that cats have nine lives springs to mind when reading this book, for Simon’s cat invariably gets into precarious positions that would diminish or even extinguish lesser pets. It just goes to show the incredible resilience of cats, and their propensity for prevailing even against a preponderance of odds. Ultimately, Tofield lends credence to those who theorize that cats are the superior life-form, that they are the masters and we, the pets.
With this in mind, then, it’s important to note that Simon’s cat is far from invincible. Though he often depicts his cat as outsmarting the various inventions that a human uses to curtail cat activities, Simon’s cat is equally as likely to be bested by objects, both animate and inanimate, or even simple hubris (perhaps the most dangerous cat vice). I think it would be accurate to describe Simon’s cat less as a hero and more as an antihero; rather than following the monomyth, the cat instead traces a loose arc from nuisance and menace to an endearing but mischievous friend. The cat is chaotic neutral at best.
Of course, it’s impossible to critique any graphical depiction of cat lifestyles without talking about the ur-example of the genre: Garfield. This comic strip cemented the stereotype of the lazy, entitled feline whose only motivators were a love for lasagna and a distaste for younger, more energetic cats. Garfield is a funny character, but the dominance of his comic strip on cat-lit for the past few decades means that it’s always refreshing to see authors who take this genre in a different direction. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Tofield subverts many of the tropes of cat-lit, but he definitely executes them in ways that belie the Garfield stereotype. While Simon often appears as frazzled as John might, he is clearly less pessimistic. It’s an open question whether this is because of, in spite of, or the reason for his cat’s energetic antics. Much like nature versus nurture, the complex feedback loop between cat and human will likely never be resolved.
As the book is more a series of single-page vignettes than a coherent plot, it’s difficult to review Simon’s Cat vs The World as a story. It’s more of a carousel of characterization. The art is lovely and the situations both diverse and highly risible. Children and adults alike will derive a good fifteen to thirty minutes of enjoyment from the initial reading of this book. And, as they continue to mull over the complex interplay of its subtext about the relationship between cats and humans, they will come to appreciate Tofield’s insights into the myriad ways in which cats manifest their intelligence and perspicacity in getting their own way. Any cat owner is bound to see their cat in Simon’s cat. As for those who aren’t cat lovers? Well … I guess you can always go read Tintin or something.