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Waiting for Gertrude

by Bill Richardson

In Waiting for Gertrude, Vancouver writer, broadcaster, and notorious cat-fancier Bill Richardson envisions Paris’s famed Père-Lachaise Cemetery as inhabited by the souls of its notable occupants reincarnated into the bodies of feral cats. Chopin has taken on the role of the feline postmaster. LaFontaine is a doggerel-spouting tour guide. Jim Morrison is as much an enigma, and as randy a tom, as he was as a human, and is the subject of much lustful competition between a lascivious Colette and a tragically gelded Oscar Wilde. The only notable not yet reborn is Gertrude Stein, a lack much lamented by her faithful companion Alice B. Toklas, who tires of waiting and takes more direct, and magical, action to hasten her return.
Waiting for Gertrude is, on one level, a whimsical diversion for the cat lovers among us. Richardson writes convincingly of the feline world, and his affection for cats is apparent. The novel builds comfortably in a series of amusing set pieces, intercepted letters, and small mysteries to a climax at the annual Christmas pageant, a structure that makes for either a leisurely single-sitting reading or a casual few-pages-at-a-time approach.
What seem initially to be running jokes (Wilde’s fruitless lusting for Morrison, the dotage and decline of Rossini) become emotionally charged through Richardson’s skilfull characterizations, especially the intimacy and passion displayed by Toklas while waiting for her beloved Stein. Here Richardson brings a keen eye and a tremendous sensitivity to a relationship that has confounded generations of scholars.
Richardson’s feline creations are more human than human, more cat than cat, their emotional and dramatic range a product of both their past existences and their authentic feline qualities. To spend eternity in their company, Richardson seems to indicate, is a very paradise.