More Indies and Japan – Porter and Tanizaki

Today I have a Shiny link and another Japanese cat for you, both from indie publishers …

The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter

In his third short novel, (my review of his first here), Porter gets even more experimental, presenting a series of imagined word pictures as the tortured artist lies dying in a Madrid hospital. It’s a bravura exercise, but will benefit the reader who is familiar with Bacon’s life and works – I had to do background research before embarking on it. The result is both fascinating and moving.

Read my full Shiny review here.

Source: Own copy. Faber, 2021, hardback, 80pp. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

A Cat, A Man, and Two Women by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Translated by Paul McCarthy

After my relative disappointment The Guest Cat a couple of weeks ago, you may have thought I’d leave Japanese cats for a while, but being a glutton for punishment, I found another for my second read in this year’s Japanese Literature Challenge 14 hosted by DolceBelezza. Not only does the flyleaf picture the author with a gorgeous cat (see below), but this latest edition is from Daunt Books, so fits in with #ReadIndies Month.

This novella was written in 1936, around the middle of Tanizaki’s writing career (he died in 1965), but it wasn’t published in English translation until 1990 by Paul McCarthy, Daunt Books reprinting his translation in 2015.

The primary characters are those listed in the title plus, for the two women, the mother-in-law from hell. Shinako had been married to Shozo for two and a half years, but their union remained childless and she finds herself ousted so Shozo can marry his young mistress Fukuko, much to Mrs Ishii’s initial pleasure–she’d never liked Shinako, complaining:

‘She doesn’t seem to have any bad points in particular, but somehow I don’t feel any warmth in what she does for me… You see, she doesn’t have a gentle, loving nature that really wants to make an older person’s life a little pleasanter–that’s why.’

Meanwhile, Shinako has been forced to live in a single room back at her sister’s house. She took nothing from her relationship with Shozo, and being lonely, finds she is missing their cat, Lily. Knowing that Shozo loves the cat more than anyone else, she decides to ask for her, but approaches the request sideways, writing to Fukuko to put her off the cat, and urge Shozo to give Lily to Shinako, her letter forms the introduction to the book. Fukuko wonders what her motives are, but isn’t a fan of Lily as her de facto rival for Shozo’s affections.

There is an hilarious scene in the book where Shozo and Lily exchange farts, he under the duvet and she straight in his face trying to evade being grabbed, and Shozo uses this against Shinako ever after,

‘After all, Lily and I are so close we’ve smelled each other’s farts!’ But when you’ve spent ten years together, you do develop exceptionally strong ties, even with a cat. The odds were, in fact, that he really did feel closer to Lily than either of his wives.

A Cat, A Man…

Will Shozo be able to give up his cat? Will his second marriage survive? If Shinako gets the cat, can she love it as Shozo did?

Lily the cat certainly had more of a role in this novel than Chibi in The Guest Cat, and we discovered all the lengths that her owners would go to to indulge her. Unlike Chibi, Lily is a sociable creature, often sleeping between husband and wife under the covers, purring loudly. Tanizaki reminds us of feline habits and smells in particular. I’ve mentioned the farts already, but there’s fish-breath and of course, the litter tray – the latter taking on a symbolic resonance! There is an earthiness to Tanizaki’s writing in these moments that was unexpected, but which was more than balanced by his examination of love and loneliness, and yes, the companionship that pet ownership brings.

I really enjoyed this light and funny yet thoughtful novel. A Japanese cat book that I can recommend. (9/10)

Source: Own copy. Daunt, 2015, paperback, 124 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

10 thoughts on “More Indies and Japan – Porter and Tanizaki

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      A quick refresher on Bacon’s wikipedia page and a browse through a few images would probably help.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I loved that one too. I now have the Travelling Cat Chronicles for my next Japanese read – I’m aiming for a trio of Jap Cat books this year for the Jap Lit Challenge.

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