The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery, illustrated by Maria Guitart
Translated by Alison Anderson
For a cat-lover there’s always room for a good cat book at Christmas, and this lovely one from the pen of Muriel Barbery, author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and this year’s A Single Rose (which is in the running for my book of the year), should find its place under many a tree.
Barbery’s long-time translator Alison Anderson does the words proud, and illustrator Maria Guitart provides adorable artwork in greys with orange highlights throughout. And the words, they’re ‘spoken’ by Kirin, one of Barbery’s four Chartreux grey cats,
First of all, let me make one thing clear: we like our writer. She’s kind. She never forgets our mealtimes. She doesn’t scream when she sees a dead mouse. She throws bottle corks to us (our favourite game at aperitif hour) while she’s drinking with (which is not infrequently). She takes us to the vet the minute we fart out of tune. We really do like her.
But enough is enough.
I’ll come straight out with it: without us, our writer would not be the writer she is. I don’t know if she’d be worse or better, but she’d be different, that’s all. Why? Because even if we can’t speak, we are outstanding literary advisors.
Kirin, on behalf of the other three, Petrus, Ocha and Mizu, (three Japanese derived names and one wine) continues to outline the cats’ manifesto after introducing us to her cat-mates. Actually they’re all related, two pairs of brother and sisters, bred from successive generations of the same line, however, Kirin lets us know that they’re all very different in temperament.
She goes on to tell us about the things the writer likes (including Japan where she lived for a while), and her habits. Kirin explains how they nudge their writer in the right direction; control the writer’s husband, editor, friends; do anything to help their writer get the most out of a writing life with felines – they’re quite subversive!
Anyone with cats who aspires to write anything – even a shopping list – will recognise many of Barbery’s cats’ wiles. They’re all literary consultants to a degree. Here are my own pair, from way back when they were kittens. Both still love tramping over my keyboard over seven years later, but Barbery’s cats are par excellence at literary interference!
This slim hardback is delightfully French in flavour, it is really witty but refreshingly devoid of Gallic whimsy. It gives us a super insight into Barbery’s writing life – if those lovely cats are telling the full story that is. Cats with attitude – cattitude!
Source: Review copy – thank you! Gallic Books Hardback, illus, 80 pages.
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