“An Unlikely Bestseller”: The Guest Cat

It’s been a hot minute since I read a book for pleasure in its entirety. imagesFor a while, I was in the process of reading three books, because I couldn’t decide which to read first and each one satisfied different moods at any given time. Of course, work, school, OkiPaws, and Chuck generally compete for my attention, so neither of the three books (despite being pretty good) have been completed.

While browsing Huffington Post, I came across 12 Books That Will Lift You Up When You are Down. I briskly scrolled through but then quickly backpedaled to examine one title closer: The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. If you know me at all, you know why I backpedaled, but the fact that it was a book about a cat written by a Japanese poet made me all sorts of curious:

A bestseller in France and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife ― the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens….

I downloaded it to my Kindle on the spot, and finished it within days. It was a pleasure to read, even though it lacked the action and thorough event description typical of Western literature. I learned later that this is typical of Japanese literature, with descriptions focused on time and place rather than characters and “what happens next.” Things “happen” almost anticlimactically, with no build-up, or warning, or even emotion… but maybe that’s exactly how real life is.

Anyone who understands the nuances of cats, nature, fate, and time would enjoy this book, but I must admit that the lack of explanation and open-ended sense of mystery at the end left me frustrated. I could certainly relate, since I encounter many unknowns both with my interactions with stray Japanese cats and just life in general. But this novella is a lovely, metaphorical depiction of just that: the unresolved.

*

“Chibi was a jewel of a cat… Having played to her heart’s content, Chibi would come inside and rest for a while. 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 had dreamed this scene.”

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