The Guest Cat, written by Takashi Hiraide and translated into English by Eric Scelland.
This novella, which has twenty-nine short chapters, reads more like prose poetry and a memoir than a novel. It is infused thoroughly with Japanese culture and the end notes given by the translator make it more convenient for people not acquainted with the culture.
The first person narrative and the subjective feel given to the experiences render it as a personal account, almost in retrospection. Its deep descriptions and musings about the few events on the cat, Chibi, and the guest house and the mansion bring out the beauty of the writer’s art of presenting visuals through the words. However, at some points, the focus on the architecture of the houses seems more repetitious, making it stagnant and thus kills the mood to read further.
When I first came across the title of the book and the beautifully illustrated cover of the book, I thought it would be an adventurous book about the cat. It is disheartening to not see much of the cat in the course of the novel. There are chapters in the books which completely lack any mention of Chibi. If you are looking for a more traditional kind of storybook where a cat might amuse you, then this is definitely not the one you are looking for.
The novel is very picturesque but lacks a forward moving plot. It also lacks the humour, the colour and the vibrant attitude you might want to associate with the cover of the book. It is rather melancholic and brings the deep sadness and sorrows of life.
The story of The Guest Cat is rather simple — a middle-aged couple, both freelance writers, have nothing much common to talk about, come across a cat who is adopted by their neighbours but who frequents their house every day and becomes an integral part of their life. They have some fond memories of the cat and it is their love for the cat which brings excitement to their life.
Looking at the book structurally, it has loopholes in terms of its plot too. There are a few instances where the writer/editor hasn’t paid much attention to detail. There is a particular episode in the book where when Chibi bites the narrator’s wife, she yells at Chibi saying, “Out! Get out! It’s all over between us!” Yet, in the subsequent chapters, we see that the narrator as well as his wife are as close to Chibi as before and continue to love her till the end. This is rather absurd and confusing that lacks explanation.
The book is open-ended. It calls for a closure but lacks it. Even the narrator seems to be looking for a logical chronology of events that led to the fateful event (spoiler beans are not spilled here). He tries to rationalize and put things in order but it remains a mystery for the narrator and for the readers.
For someone who has had pets, this book will surely bring back some of those fond memories.
This is not the best book that I have read about pets and/or animals in general. The narrative has layers of meaning and deep philosophical insights which may not be as apparent to everyone who is looking for a light reading. It brings out the sense of loss and compassion; it is disturbing and yet brings a kind of relief, the ambiguity of life is made apparent.
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