The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

A Gem, A Minor Gem, But Nonetheless A Gem

Self Portrait 2010
Self Portrait 2010

Nothing much “happens”. Quite a lot “happens”. This little gem is a minor gem, but it is still a gem. Its smallness is its strength. It is not quite, or really, elegiac, but it carries resonances of that quality, and communicates a wistfulness. It is like a painting in pale watercolors, with butterfly wings for brushes, painted on translucent silk shimmering in a breeze. It is not angst-ridden … but there are concerns and worries.

So … all that above should tell what this delightful book is NOT about, and should tell the manner in which the story is told.

The story tells of a phase in the life of a couple in their 30s, both “literary”, working from their small home in a suburb of Tokyo. And then … along comes this little cat. At first without a name. This little feline visitor enters their life subtly, aligning with them and yet being true to itself. Life goes on. And then they name the little cat. Chibi, a name of endearment. And their life goes on. For all three of them. Neighbors fall ill and die. Work has to be looked for. And life goes on. All through the story the descriptions of Chibi’s behaviors and mannerisms are so beautifully caught that they could only have been seen by a lover of cats.

And then there is an event of great sorrow to the couple. And still life goes on, although without Chibi.

This is a story of a non-frantic, simple life, simply lived with aspirations and hopes. A life so very different from how the majority of us “live” life here in 2016 in the West (the story takes place in the 1980s).

I have only one quibble. It is a major one. The ending of the book happened so suddenly. How did we get from ten pages before the end to the end itself? I did not understand the ending at all. Obviously it was not meant to be “understood” in the way I was trying to understand it. Maybe it was enigmatic? If it was enigmatic, then it was way beyond me. And so the ending spoiled, to an extent, my memory of the story, resonating and playing itself out, until fading, in my reader’s mind. Oh well …


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