A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.
One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.
The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. The book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.
Another Japanese cat novel and it’s another one with a white background and a black cat on the front! I’ve not long read “The Travelling Cat Chronicles” and I’ve been meaning to pick up “If Cats Disappeared from the World” for a while now too.
Cats are just so prominent in Japanese literature that I decided to look into it and it seems that Will Harris at Books and Bao seems to have spotted this correlation too: 6 Translated Books for People Who Love Japan and Cats
So my latest Japanese cat book is “The Guest Cat” by Takashi Hiraide. This is a quaint story with an poetic, ethereal feel to it and it’s another one that you can enjoy without being a massive cat fan. I’m not a massive cat fan so I wasn’t sure what it was that kept drawing me back to these books, but then just a few pages in, I read the following quote and I really couldn’t agree with this more…
“When I think about it now, rather than my not being a cat lover, it may simply have been that I felt a disconnect with people who were cat lovers. But more than anything, I’d simply never experienced having one around.”
In a similar style to Yoko Ogawa’s stories, the main characters in this book are nameless. They’re a married couple in their 30s, living in a tiny home on the land of a larger estate in Tokyo. While working at home one day, the couple meet the neighbour’s cat, Chibi. The trio share a connection and Chibi begins to regularly visit their home and becomes, in a way, like the child that this couple never had.
“My wife gazed back. Then she thought of how they would soon have to part, and all the conflicted feelings came rushing in. “After all, she isn’t really ours… But maybe I wish she really were…”. Chibi stared intently with her deep green eyes at the clear liquid flowing from my wife’s eyes and rolling down her cheeks – these human things called tears.”
It’s charming, sweet and a little sad. The story was simple, and while I appreciate the layers of emotion and philosophical meaning, I have to say that I didn’t find it to be the most memorable. The message for me wasn’t as strong as it was in “The Travelling Cat Chronicles” and even though I know I shouldn’t be comparing the two, “The Guest Cat” didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations.
Overall rating: “The Guest Cat” is a short and sweet book that I’d recommend for cat-lovers but also for fans of Japanese literature. It wasn’t one of my favourites, but it’s a short, quick read that’ll warm your heart. 3 stars from me.