Book Review: The Guest Cat

Thursday 11 December 2014 by

The Guest Cat, Book, Picador, Takashi HiraideThe Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Published by Picador

THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER.

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.

Written by Japanese poet and novelist Takashi Hiraide, the book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America.

~*~

The Guest Cat is so cute, I read it in a day. I mean, it’s a matter of a couple of hundred pages in any case, but the story is so compelling that you just can’t help being drawn in. This memoir-like novel tells of a couple whose solitude is broken by the arrival of a little cat. Their life is transformed by its presence, and they find that it changes everything, from their relationship to their house to their careers.

As a big cat fan myself, this is a sweet novel that demonstrates the joy of keeping a pet. No, I’m not a crazy cat lady. And I’m not going to harp of about how pets have personalities. Read this book, and you’ll get it.

There is a poetic simplicity in the novel that makes it so joyous to read. You get a real sense of place and time, the characters are intensely real, and the emotion is that perfect balanced edge between subtly implied and overtly present. The only part that didn’t quite feel right was the ongoing obsession that influences their choice of house later on; I’m not sure I would ever pick a house based on the view to the previous house…

As with many of the books I have been reading of late, this is not a huge adventure story; in fact, beside the odd adventure from the cat, there is not much more of a story than that of an emotional one. I picked it up on a whim – partly because the cover was sweet, and partly because Foyles had an entire window display of it and I figured it had to be good. It is the characters that carry the novel, although the wife doesn’t get as many column inches as the narrator, and I wonder if the story could have benefitted from her point of view more often.

In the end, my review is as brief as this book; a sparkling moment of prose and poetry. Read when curled up in a comfy chair with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and no one to disturb you. Be prepared to want to get a cat immediately.

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