To be upfront, I had heard that Takashi Hiraide is a renowned poet in Japan, but I never had the chance to read his poetry. That’s why it surprised me even more that a man, who has devoted his life to writing poetry, would suddenly pen a novel that unexpectedly becomes a bestseller. Is it deserved? Well, let’s see.
“The Guest Cat” is set in post-war Japan, more precisely during the 1980s (a rather challenging period for Japan at the time), and follows a young couple in their thirties who have rented a little house in the corner of a large garden belonging to a vast estate. He’s a writer, she’s an editor. And they work from home. As people would say today, true freelancers. They don’t have children, and it seems they don’t mind that at all. But when we meet this couple at the beginning of the story, we get the impression that they are somewhat neutral towards each other. Of course, this also relates to the mentality of people from that period. I mean, they love each other and all that, but the combination of work and not having children seems to have reduced their life to a routine…
…until one day, an unexpected guest appears in their life. A small, white kitty with a few gray spots on her fur. The wife loves animals; the husband, not so much (especially, it seems, he’s not a fan of cats). And on top of everything, it’s the neighbor’s kitty.
But as time goes by, this kitty slowly crawls under the couple’s skin with her increasingly frequent visits to their home, and they begin to pay her more attention, starting from occasionally leaving food out for her, to the point where she eventually had her food bowl and a spot for naps, as well as the freedom to explore the whole house. But far from being domesticated, this little kitty was somewhat headstrong, disliking being held, and she didn’t meow.
However, she brought something new into the young couple’s life. She introduced freshness and some new colors to their existence. Reading the novel, you get the impression that this kitty, through her mischievous actions, unknowingly brought the couple closer together again, as they now seemed happier, more eager, and had more topics to discuss (especially about the kitty).
Of course, although the central part of the story is the couple’s relationship with the kitty, the novel also touches upon their relationships with neighbors, housekeepers, and even the difficulties and challenges of life in the ’80s. There are also some sad themes involved.
You may have noticed that for our little “guest,” I never used the term “cat,” but only “kitty.” The reason is simple. Takashi Hiraide has described the kitty’s appearance, behavior, and mischievous actions so nicely and charmingly that after, the term “cat” simply seems derogatory for this goofy creature. 🙂 You can just imagine a cute kitty from Disney cartoons (or Japanese animated films if you prefer… and I don’t mean talking cats with huge biceps, swinging swords, and… oops, I got a bit carried away… what can I say, I’m kind of an otaku 🙂).
“The Guest Cat” is a short novel and a quick read. It’s written in an appealing and poetic manner, with beautiful and straightforward descriptions. When you start reading, you really get the feeling it was written by a poet who has shifted to prose.
I couldn’t shake the impression that this is an autobiographical novel and that the writer, or rather, the poet, really lived through this adventure long ago, and simply wanted to share it with us now. Perhaps it’s just me, but reading this novel, I truly got that impression. There’s a kind of nostalgia present in this book.
Is “The Guest Cat” a masterpiece? No, but it’s a very lovely novel. It will be particularly interesting to those who are fans of Japan, cats, and quirky pets in general.
All the while I was reading this novel, a smile was hovering over my face. Sometimes cheerful, sometimes melancholy. This is one of those books that truly relaxes you as you read.
Question for you: Is there, or has there been, such a dear creature of animal origin in your life that changed it? And, if it’s not a secret, how did it change? 🙂
(Originally reviewed: 30/09/2017)