The Guest Cat Book Review


A bestseller in France and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife — the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens….


THE GUEST CAT by Takashi Hiraide follows the traditional Japanese four-act story structure of kishōtenketsu with an introduction, development, twist and resolution. Unlike the traditionally western three-act structure which follows a setup, confrontation and resolution style the pace is generally different and the plot/characterisations are not potrayed as black and white (think Studio Gibhli stories). Because kishōtenketsu doesn’t have a typical ‘confrontation’ in the way of an epic battle, head-to-head or standard climax to the setup, many readers can find the pace and plot on the boring side. However, if you’re looking for an atmospheric, relaxing and heart-warming story then THE GUEST CAT is for you.

The story is made up of short essays and reflections by the narrator as he looks back on a profound time in his life when Chibi, a cat, impacted his and his wife’s life. Chibi is one of the neighbours cats and so doesn’t belong to the characters in the novel. Yet the mutual understanding and respect between them and Chibi causes an unexpectedly dependent relationship between them. As circumstances change within the couple’s lives, from work to having to move house, they begin to realise they are the ones reliant on Chibi, not the other way around. This revelation is both sad and sweet as they must come to terms with the knowledge that Chibi is not theirs.

Hiraide often had me smiling with his descriptions of cats and their behaviours because I couldn’t help but compare the similarities with my two cats (Kira & Ragnar). I often find myself stressing over whether my cats are okay when I’m not around, or when they’ve run off to chase birds or mice in the neighbours large and unknown (to me yard). I have had the unfortunate experience of having a cat disappear one day and never come home, so I can be overly protective to the point of unreasonable coddling. THE GUEST CAT reminded me that cats are their own masters and need to be left to discover and wander as they please. Cats are often misunderstood in negative ways, but if you show respect to a cat as a person rather than a stuffed toy it will eventually do the same. Hiraide perfectly captures the gentle way cats (and pets in general) can have such a deep impact on people’s happiness and lives through modest everday examples. It’s honestly an incredibly soothing read.

There are some sad moments in the story that are heartbreaking and a reminder of the reality of caring for another living creature. Whether it be another person, a cat or a dragonfly. These sad moments are handled gently and realistically with a prose so poetic that you feel comforted almost instantly with the knowledge that things will go on.
I’m reluctant to talk too much about this book, for it’s only short and the experience of reading it should be enjoyed without spoilers or preconceptions. Go in with an open mind and open heart at a time when you are in the mood for something thoughtful and subtley intimate.

RATING – 4/5 stars
Publisher – Picador 2001
Author – Takashi Hiraide
ISBN – 1447279409 


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