The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Some cat this week courtesy of Japanese critic, poet, and novelist Takashi Hiraide. The 67 year old became a surprise bestseller in the West with The Guest Cat, in a success that really highlights how publishers seem to have no idea what’s going to become a hit. But if something is, then we’d much rather have readers of the world taking to a novella such as this.

You can’t help but feel its success, in part, is to the inclusion of a cat. Look at that book cover – this cat crazy world of ours (check out our Cat Cafe Manchester and Tama the Super Station Master posts to get the drift there) is going to go mental for such a thing. But the novella is much more than a cat-craze cash in. Rather, it’s a consideration on change, life, and relationships.

The Guest Cat

Companionship is at the heart of the story. Apparently, over in Nippon, transient (as in temporary) relationships are something of a meditative artform. It’s understandable they should think like this. It’s part of the national makeup – people from Japan are often highly conscientous and consider the finer details. In life, we all do often have fleeting relationships – whether in work, or some other depraved activity.

Thusly, we have a young couple in The Guest Cat – they’re in their thirties and they have a small cottage in a suburb of Tokyo. They don’t really have much to talk about… until Chibi, an inquisitive cat, begins nosing around their home. This is one of the more confusing personality traits for us – cats just barge into situations and demand adoration and respect. And humans, of course, pile it on them.

With the arrival of the cat, the small joys of life return for the couple. They start heading off on walks, talking about anything and everything, and embracing the newfound creature. This all builds up to an ending you might already know, but it doesn’t take away from the lyrical nature of the work. It’s an enjoyable, short romp that flags up the marvellous nature of the cat in fine style. Well worth your consideration.

Cats in Literature

Cats have turned up in literature for many centuries, of course. Above we have what looks like a fun kids book (we liked the animation) by Galia Bernstein. I am a Cat also clashes with classic Japanese writer Natsume Sōseki, who also wrote a book called I am a Cat (1905). In that one, he wrote a tale from the perspective of a kitty – it’s a long and rambling book, so we’ve not had time to get to it yet.

There’s also Tobermory by Edwardian satrist wit Saki. In that short story from 1912, a cat called Tobermory learns to speak English and communicate with his human owners. That’s in keeping with many oddity short stories from the era, including the likes of Gogol, Kafka, and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. But we mention this one as we’re going to hunt down the short story, get it read, and do a review. Purrfect!


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