The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide (2014)

The Guest Cat is another book I fondled in a bookshop not long ago. I didn’t buy it at the time, but the premise intrigued me and I discovered we actually own a copy when I went looking for another short read from those on our poor overburdened shelves.

We’re introduced to a mild-mannered husband and wife living a quiet, unremarkable, life in Tokyo, Japan. They live in a small cottage on the grounds of a large estate, at one end of a thriving garden. A couple of freelance copy-editors, their relationship has reached the slump I think all couples experience at some point: they’re co-habiting but not really living. One day a stray cat arrives and with it their whole world is changed. They both awaken to the colour and life all around them.

This is a story quite literally self-contained in its own little patch of paradise. The plot rarely moves beyond the main characters, their garden, and their favourite feline visitor, Chibi, yet the author covers a lot of emotional ground. I found the relationship between each of the characters and Chibi fascinating, as were the subtle nods to Japanese culture and social rules.

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of a cat for company will recognise the idiosyncratic antics of Chibi, and the affectionate bond the characters quickly establish with her. The descriptions are fantastic: you can just imagine Chibi cautiously exploring the cottage, hunting in the undergrowth, and finding the perfect perch from which to doze and keep a watchful eye on the house’s occupants.

The humans too have their own little foibles. The narrator himself is extremely observant and gives us a peculiar look at things we’d normally overlook, like a knothole in a fence or a dragonfly sunbathing. At one point he goes off on a complete tangent discussing how to calculate the height of a tree. It works though because the book meanders gently around their lives with a sense of wonder and fascination.

I can’t say too much more without spoilers, but suffice to say The Guest Cat is a quietly quirky – and distinctly Japanese – truly wonderful read. Highly recommended.

What are you reading?

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