In an interview in the back of the book, Atwood states this is her most autobiographical novel, and she states the theme of the book as follows:
Cat's Eye is about how girlhood traumas continue into adult life. Girls have a culture marked by secrets and shifting alliances, and these can cause a lot of distress. The girl who was your friend yesterday is not your friend today, but you don't know why. These childhood power struggles color friendships between women. I've asked women if they fear criticism more from men or from other women. The overwhelming answer was: "From women."
In typical Atwood fashion, there were also themes concerning male-female relationships. In one painting of Elaine's, called Falling Women, she describes what was meant in the artwork:
There were no men in this painting, but it was about men, the kind who caused women to fall. I did not ascribe any intentions to these men. They were like the weather, they didn't have a mind. They merely drenched you or struck you like lightning and moved on, mindless as blizzards. Or they were like rocks, a line of sharp slippery rocks with jagged edges. You could walk with care along between the rocks, picking your steps and if you slipped you'd fall and cut yourself, but it was no use blaming the rocks.
That must be what was meant by fallen women. Fallen women were women who had fallen onto men and hurt themselves. There was some suggestion of downward motion, against one's will and not with the will of anyone else. Fallen women were not pulled-down women or pushed women, merely fallen.
Definitely one to read if you've enjoyed other Atwood novels.
1988, 462 pp.