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ENTRY

Review: The Guest Cat
February 28, 2014

The Guest Cat
Takashi Hirade
Translated by Eric Selland

There's nothing wrong with a good cat story. Of course, in full disclosure, I am a cat person. Cats are sensualists, mysterious, introspective (at least seemingly so), and a touch still wild at heart. Japanese poet, Takashi Hirade, has written a novel that touches on these feline characteristics, while revealing the layers of the Japanese psyche.

A young couple, both writers and editors, live and work in a small guesthouse off an alley and on the grounds of a larger house. They live a comfortable, simple life, neither desiring the complications of more things, or harboring secret ambitions. But, a complication does arise in the form of an alley cat.

A young boy from a house down the alley adopts the stray cat and names it Chibi - "Little One" for indeed it was small. The newly adopted cat finds the neighborhood to its liking and starts to explore, now sporting a collar with a bell. The garden of the young couple's landlord is one of the cat's hangouts. Chibi, or Tinkerbell as the couple nicknames him, gradually lets the couple into her life. They play with the cat in the garden with a ping-pong ball, and watch it stalk its prey, real or imagined.

The cat gradually finds them worthy of further attention as the narrator of the novel, the husband, describes: ?I often remember the appearance of Chibi the cat, and the scene in the guesthouse when she first came inside. "One shining, sunny afternoon, slipping through a crack in the open door, four bright white feet stepped softly on to the room's insulated drain board, and with well-honed curiosity rushing through her entire body, Chibi quietly surveyed its meager interior."

They entice him further into their cottage with food, and eventually add a little cat door and a place for Chibi to sleep. The cat provides them with a break in their daily routine and a chance for some philosophical ruminations: "What's interesting about animals, my wife explained to me, is that even though a cat may be a cat, in the end, each individual has its own character. 'Chibi is a friend with whom I share an understanding, and whom just happens to have taken on the form of a cat.' Then she told me about a philosopher who said that observation is at its core an expression of love which doesn't get caught up in sentiment. By this time my wife's notebook had become a daily record of Chibi's activities.?

While their relationship with the cat grows more intimate, the cat occasionally exerts its natural independence and wildness, sometimes, to the point of the cat not being welcome in the cottage. But that never lasts long.

When the landlord of the big house dies and wife decides to move out and sell the property, the couple realizes their time in the guesthouse will be ending. They start to look for other arrangements, knowing they will likely not find something to match their idyllic setting, and probably have to settle for a sterile condo. And they will miss Chibi of course. When the potential upheaval becomes real, they are faced with greater turmoil than they imagined.

Hirade's novel is a seemingly small, quiet story on the surface, but it captures much of the underlying day-to-day tensions and joys we feel as humans. The writing is delicate, precise, and tugs on strings of emotion without hammering on them. And while the nuances of the ultimate conflicts created by the guest cat illuminate the Japanese psyche, what the couple experience is universal. Reading this novel is an enriching experience for cat lovers or not.

COMMENTS

Number of comments: 2
click here to add a comment

Lee Witte
I believe it's a requirement for a writer to have a cat.

Todd
I've written many a page with a cat on my lap. My current cat, however, is not a lap cat.

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