If you recall, dear reader, the original question that led me to Beware the Cat was the identity of the first English novel. Does Beware the Cat count as the first English novel?
At least one person has made a serious claim that it is:
Streamer’s narrative of his experience, as reported by Baldwin, is the first English novel, or if you prefer, the earliest original work of longer prose fiction in English. It may appear surprising, but it is nevertheless true, that before Baldwin’s time all works of prose fiction in English of more than short-story length had been translations or adaptations, mainly from Latin or French, and not original. “Beware the Cat” and the Beginnings of English Fiction by William A. Ringler, Jr. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Winter, 1979), pp. 113-126 Published by Duke University Press http://www.jstor.org/stable/1345439
Ringler modifies his claim from ‘novel’ to ‘longer prose fiction’ which is more defensible. However, Beware the Cat fails to be a novel.
- It is too short to really be called a novel.
- While there is a sort of overall plot (Mr Streamer investigating talking cats) it is really just a bunch of stories connected together.
However, it is not lacking in either structure or sophistication. Mr Streamer is wonderfully characterised by showing how he speaks and how he perceives himself. The other narrators get their own distinct voices and motivations.
Importantly the reader is expected to do a lot of the work. You are not being told a straightforward story. Narrators do not tell the truth (although they rarely lie) and are often inconsistent and/or hypocritical.