Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Title: The Guest Cat
Author: Takashi Hiraide
Cover Artist: Tsuguhara Foujita
Publisher: Picador Press
Release Date: January 28th 2014 (first published 2001 in Japan)
Genre: Contemporary Japanese literature
Page Count: 136
Original Language: Japanese
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A

I chose to read this book for the purpose of a big school project that is worth a grade towards university, and I have to say that I'm really glad I did.

I have no notes so I'm just going on what I remember, but I finished it last week so I'm hoping that won't be as much of a problem!


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 back 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 first page:

*Spoiler Alert - this review does assume you are familiar with the story's ending*

First of all, I don't agree with how this book is described in the blurb. In fact, I probably shouldn't have even written it down here, because someone has interpreted it wrong. This is a more Western interpretation of the novel, whereas I don't think it centres around the couple's troubles at all (I didn't think they had many troubles nor where they focused on) and instead it centres around the detail of both the cat and the things around the cat.

This is typical of Japanese literature in itself, which is poetic, with long and detailed descriptions of the surroundings rather than the characters. Especially in post-war literature, where they focused on the idea of loss and coping with it, which is evident in this book.

Basically, the blurb doesn't do it justice. With many books from other cultures, I found it refreshing to read. It is also a book where the only love that was talked about was the couple's love for the cat. Not each other. And on that realisation, I am going to read more Japanese novels as this is the first book I've read in my young adult life that doesn't include a love story.

It was a work of poetry and you can see that from the beginning. It wasn't like you were reading a book - it was like you were reading a long poem written in free style that made you think.

I'm guessing all the negativity I've seen on Goodreads surrounding this book is due to the point that it is so different from Western literature, and sometimes it is hard to adjust. Also, it didn't help that, in my opinion, the translator didn't do a very good job. I know how hard it must be to switch between such different languages, but I felt that the lyrics were there and there needed to be a bit more melody. None of this is Takashi's fault of course, I'm just nitpicking at this point.

I am a cat person for sure, and I felt ALL THE FEELS when tragedy strikes regarding the life of this cat. The hardest thing about writing a story about animals is that other people may be dog-people (you know the ones...) and they won't understand the pain of losing a smaller animal. So the main event might not affect dog-people as much, but it sure as hell will hurt for the cat-people out there. Chibi is such a sweet cat and the characters are so attached to her, but especially the wife of the narrator.

Overall, this novella is beautiful with philosophical messages about the love for an animal and coping with the grief when its no longer there. I found this book refreshing and welcomed it with open arms, but the translator could have done a better job. Four British cups of tea for the Japanese masterpiece!

About the author:

Takashi Hiraide was born in Moji, Kitakyushu in 1950. He has published numerous books of poetry as well as several genre-bending essays, including one on poetics and baseball. 

His novel, A Guest Cat; is a bestseller in Britain, making the top 10 in the Waterstones list in 2014 and the beginning of 2015. 

Hiraide is a professor of Art Science and Poetics as well as a core member of the new Institute for Art Anthropology at Tama Art University. 

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