Title: The Guest Cat
Author: Takashi Hiraide
Tags: #japan #tokyo #cats
Discovered: The Riverside Bookshop, London Bridge
Where read: (In part) Southeastern high speed train to Canterbury
Why read now?: Enjoy now and give as presents to your friends this Christmas
The Word's Shortlist view:
"Looking back on it now, I'd say one's thirties are a cruel age. At this point, I think of them as a time I whiled away unaware of the tide that can suddenly pull you out, beyond the shallows, into the sea of hardship, and even death."
This is one of those novels where brevity and simplicity conceal, at least initially, a depth and appeal beyond its 146 pages. Don't be fooled by the title, this is a novel (more specifically a novella) not so much about a cat but about a couple.
The narrative follows a middle aged and emotionally distant couple working from a rented home in one of the outer suburbs of Tokyo. Into this routine way of life comes 'the guest cat' whom the couple name Chibi. The rhythm of the couples life changes pace irreversibly sending ripples through their destiny.
Hirade's style is succint, like much Japanese fiction, but never clipped. Passages in this novel capture what other authors would take a whole chapter to convey which is undoubtedly due to the author's skills as a poet.
Anyone whose ever been in a relationship will recognise aspects of the couple's lives at home and you don't have to be a pet lover to see, in Chibi, the universal desire to befriend and care for another being.
This is a heartwarming and unforgettable little story about life, love and cat-flaps. Having won Japan's Kiyama Shohei literary award the novel has been a New York Times Bestseller and is now a surprise hit in the UK.
Note: What's makes a novel a novella? A novella occupies the set spot between a short story and a novel