All My Cats, written in 1983 after a serious car accident, is best seen as a confessional memoir, the chronicle of an author who becomes overwhelmed by his cats and his life, and is driven to the brink of madness by the dilemmas his indulgent love for the animals have created.
Like much of his oeuvre, the memoir succeeds in making the mundane transcendent, turning a subject as potentially benign as pet ownership into a platform of interlocking drama and introspection. By examining the tender and troubling relationship he has with his cats, Hrabal tells a Dostoyevskian tale of grief and moral anguish, one that relentlessly considers the lifespan of guilt and endpoint of empathy ... Although All My Cats does not read as allegorical or overly metaphorical, it does hint at broader sociopolitical and personal concerns that may have contributed to Hrabal’s deteriorating mental health ... All My Cats is a terrific, necessary addition to Hrabal’s English-language translations. His intimate, spare style is an ideal vehicle to explore suffering’s three-dimensionality. Vulnerable and wise, All My Cats is a gorgeous memoir that subtly probes the depths of a fragile, troubled psyche.
... it’s a violent romp, a coruscating horror story draped in crisp sheep’s clothing ... an extraordinary, heartrending read ... But it would be reductive to claim the book is powered only by its shock effects. Above the baseline brutality of All My Cats Hrabal weaves a startling and profound meditation on the zigzagging dialectic of care and violence, a befuddled study of the ways these drives intertwine, blend, and support one another in a haunting, inescapable form of symbiosis. There are, rest assured, plenty of limpid, tender scenes of interspecies communion—enough, by my count, to eke tears from the serest eye—and Hrabal’s treatment of his cats is by and large marked by a deep sensitivity ... The yeasty, buoyant formula that sends Hrabal’s stories rambling off like Catherine wheels—incorporating, greedily, everything they touch—produces a fictional vision in which tenderness is always one step away from brutality. The spellbindingly heimisch details of the text are, you quickly realize, only moments of stall before a great plunge ... It would be hard to overstate how moving these final pages of are, and they only gain in emotional heft when you consider the peculiar circumstances surrounding Hrabal’s death ... The violence that is the other end of caretaking, the dissolution of the self in the cared-for thing—it’s all there in Hrabal’s final tumble. The mystery and occlusion—the ironic indeterminacy of it all—is one final wink.
All My Cats, the most welcoming of the latest batch of his writings to appear in English, does indeed express its author’s fondness for felines, but Hrabal counterbalances that love with the disturbing cruelty of what he feels he has to do to his animal companions to keep their population under control. That the book refuses to disclose whether it is a novelistic memoir or an autobiographical novel only sharpens the discomfiture of its turns from affection to brutality ... an insistently compelling, wholly seductive meditation on guilt and necessity, and on how their interplay compounds our torments ... Just as Hrabal fosters a rhetorical egalitarianism among his details, the long sentence spreads the weight of what he says across an expanding verbal base. This technique adds a lightness to the most violent instances in All My Cats as well ... The equivalence between the comic and the tragic, between the trivial and the momentous, in turn encompasses a merger of author and audience. If you’re not hearing Hrabal’s words in your own head and in your own voice, you may be reading him too quickly.