Japanese Literature Challenge #1

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Translated by Eric Selland

The Japanese write a lot of books about cats, don’t they? Being a cat lover, these books are irresistible to me, I couldn’t resist the green foiled eyes glinting out at me on the cover of The Guest Cat, a book I’ve seen glowingly reviewed in many places.

This novella has a simple premise. When their next-door neighbours adopt a stray kitten, the narrator and his wife discover that the cat likes them as well, and they indulge Chibi, as they call the white cat, who visits them for freshly cooked mackerel and snoozes in various comfortable places in their little house. Said puss won’t tolerate being picked up and doesn’t meow–but she knows she has a good thing going on. The narrator and his wife become cat-lovers of a slightly obsessive sort, you can sense they hope that she would abandon the neighbours for them. But, it’s all about the narrator who has a rather inflated sense of worth, not about the cat, which was the wrong emphasis for me!

It’s a good thing that this novella was only 140 pages, including a few translator’s notes at the end. The narrator was so irritating, telling the story of the couple and the cat in what felt like a series of memoir cum essays. He tells the same story in a couple of places from slightly different perspectives, which made me do a double-take – I’d read that already hadn’t I? The narrator is also obsessed with the architecture of their house which is at the bottom of a mansion’s grounds, it has some peculiar quirks, which he tells us about again and again too. I was almost glad when they had to find a new home when the old couple who own the mansion sold up, but then we got endless viewings and a lecture about rental prices.

This novella was rather ordinary, and I don’t think that’s the translator’s fault. Eric Selland also translated If Cats Disappeared From the World by Genki Kawamura which I loved. So I was rather disappointed by this one, my first read this year for the Japanese Literature Challenge 14.

(I have high hopes of my next planned Japanese read though: The Wrong Goodbye by Toshihiko Yahagi, and said to be influenced by Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye)

Source: Own copy. Takashi Hiraide, The Guest Cat (Picador, 2014) paperback, 140 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via affiliate link (free UK P&P)

20 thoughts on “Japanese Literature Challenge #1

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I was so disappointed by this one, too. I then tried The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, and it was even worse! So I’ve been put off reading things like If Cats Disappeared from the World, which is a shame as I normally love a cat book.

    All I have on the pile is a few Murakamis and I did one of his last year, so I’m not going to do this challenge this year. I’m enjoying seeing what other people choose, though.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I was completely taken in by the cover – the cat of the story though, isn’t like the one on the cover at all, which is slightly irritating, but when I checked – it is a detail from a Japanese artwork…

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve had a good hit-rate with Japanese lit for the most part lately. (I’m surprised you liked it given what happens to the cat!)

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I can understand that! I think my brain shields me knowing it’s fiction, but I do always check on my two afterwards.

  2. Dark Puss says:

    I suggest almost any novel by Murakami since cats often appear in them, most notably Kafka on the Shore, but the novels are not about them.Two successful short stories with anthropomorphic cats (dangerous territory) I recommend the surreal Yan and the Pike and, even better, Jan and the Christmas Tree by Jun Machida.

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