Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

review by Maryom 

A 30-something childless Japanese couple live quietly in the former guest-house to a large mansion-like property, till one day their life is intruded upon by a cat belonging to one of the neighbours. The cat, like all felines, has no sense of boundaries and belonging, and is happy to share its time between the two houses, eating, sleeping and generally making itself at home in both. Both husband and wife become quietly obsessed by the cat, watching her comings and goings, playing with her, and gradually it comes to fill a void that they didn't realise existed.

This was one of my book club reads, probably one I wouldn't have chosen for myself but reading is all about exploring new things as well as sticking to the familiar. I don't quite know what I was expecting - possibly a cross between Tom Cox's cat books, Talk To The Tail or Under The Paw, and John Grogan's Marley And Me - but this small volume wasn't at all like either of them.
 Narrated by the husband, the story tells how the cat turned up, how, despite not really being pet-lovers, they became enchanted by its ways, but as I read, I was unsure whether this considered itself as a novel or a memoir - it certainly reads very like the latter! - and somehow I just felt something was lacking. I often criticise stories that I feel are too much 'tell', and not enough 'show', and I think that was a big problem here; I could see how the cat came to feel like part of the couple's life, but I didn't feel for any of the characters. In part this may have been due to the translation, to American English, not British; some words jarred, and some of the phrasing and expressions seemed odd - so much so that at times I felt that I couldn't engage with the story. At other points, I wondered if the author had intended to be funny, but humour doesn't translate well, and I wasn't sure. 
It's an award-winner in Japan, and a best-seller in France and the US, so I think somehow, somewhere, I missed something. It just didn't grab me but I'm going to pass it on to my cat-loving neighbour and see how she feels.

Maryom's review - 2 stars
Publisher - Picador
Genre -adult, cats

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