“There are a few cat lovers among my close friends, and I have to admit that there have been moments when that look of excessive sweet affection oozing from around their eyes has left me feeling absolutely disgusted. Having devoted themselves to cats body and soul, they seemed at times utterly indifferent to shame.”
Title: The Guest Cat
Author: Takashi Hiraide
Translator: Eric Selland
Publisher: Picador (Macmillan)
Date of publication: 2014
I have to repeatedly admit to believing in first impressions. When encountering something (or someone) for the first time, my gut feelings rarely leave me in the lurch, and the vibes I got from looking at the cover and the title of The Guest Cat convinced me that this book would be to my taste. I was absolutely right.
The story is not primarily plot driven, and as assigned readings have rather trained me to focus on plot points, it was at first a weird experience. But once I began to pay better attention to the language, I found myself loving it!
Hiraide describes even the most ordinary events and objects in a unique way, and his text is both personal and artistic. Yet, what really impressed me wasn’t only his mastery of language, it was his modesty. Some authors, realising that in writing they can play around with syntax and meaning, lose all touch with reality; they form sentences that carry no meaning, they fool around with word order until the message is entirely lost. They are so proud of being writers, they sacrifice content and form on the altar of self-congratulation. That’s not the case in this novel.
“Little by little, through the crack of the partially opened window, her tendency to visit subtly developed; her appearances were repeated until, as if a silken opening in a fabric had been continuously moistened and streched, Chibi had entered our lives.”
But what is The Guest Cat really about? At first glance, it seems to tell the story of the relationship between a writer, his wife, and Chibi – the neighbour’s cat. There is however, more than that to this short book. It isn’t only an account of how Chibi enters the couple’s life – it is also a confession of a writer, and a window to suburban Tokyo in the late 1980s. Given that I’d known shamefully little about Japan, every chapter contained revelations: about as general subjects as housing or as specific as different traditions concerning the emperor.
“Looking back on it now, I’d say one’s thirties are a cruel age. At this point, I think of them as a time I whiled away unaware of the tide that can suddenly pull you out, beyond the shallows, into the sea of hardship, and even death.”
Yet, I believe that all the merits of the book couldn’t have made it a New York Times bestseller, if there was no cat in the title or on the cover. As a reader, I am impressed by the novel, but it was my cat-lover self that noticed it in the first place. And let’s face it: cats rule the world. They are adorable, majestic and mysterious – and Chibi possesses all of these characteristics. She is the wonder we expect to meet on the pages, her presence gives us a sense of security, and she acts as an intermediary between the narrator and the reader. Chibi is undoubtedly the heart of the novel.
“When she began to sleep on the sofa – like a talisman curled gently in the shape of a comma and dug up from a prehistoric archaeological site – a deep sense of happiness arrived, as if the house itself dreamed this scene.”
So, in short, The Guest Cat didn’t only live up to my expectations, it exceeded them; and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who likes cats and honestly, to anyone who wants to read something poetic and enthralling.
Has any of you read this novel? What are you looking for in a book, especially a bestseller?