The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide is a little book that first came out in 2001, but had another edition published last year. As you might have guessed, it is written by Japanese author and is set in Japan at the end of the 80’s and beginning of the 90’s.
This book is about a family with no children or pets, who came to love neighbour’s cat who starts to visit. Although they are not really cat persons, they start to hang out with the cat a lot, they even make Chibi her own bed and have a bowl for food and milk. They grow to feel that she is part of their family and when they have to start to think about moving away from the place, they even search for something near by, so Chibi could still come to visit them. This book is not as much about story as it is about emotions and feelings towards the animal.
Though I was slightly disappointed by the fact that Chibi was not the main character of the book, I, unfortunately, was much more interested into her life and activities than the family’s. Nevertheless all the emotions – love, pain, happiness, peace were familiar to me and I had no problem with this book on the empathy level, but still it was a bit plain.
What I didn’t appreciate was the slightly chaotic way of writing and that sometimes there were jumps in time that would go back and forth (I guess I’m going to hate ‘Cloud Atlas’). I just found it slightly confusing and as the jumps were mostly about the boring part of the story, I wasn’t really even keen onto getting to understand them very well. The stories of the couple’s friends were somewhat alright, but when the author was bringing in the philosophers (that is how I have always thought of Machiavelli when I was becoming a teacher of politics and philosophy) the book just bored me out of my pants. I understand that perhaps I didn’t really grasp what the author was trying to show by putting it in the book, but at the same time, I just cannot get over the fact that it was there, it feels like it is not the right place for it.
And then there was Japan. I don’t know much about the country and it’s traditions or culture… and saying that I know that it is not true, I actually know a bit more then I guess regular person who is not a teacher of history, but nevertheless few times I googled some words to make sure (one’s that were not translated) that it meant exactly what I thought, which made the whole experience a bit more informative, but also a bit more boring. I have read that some of the people blame the translator for making the book unlikable, but I couldn’t agree, as I am sure that even, if Machiavelli would be illustrated with millions of pictures and no words at all (by author), I would still most likely hate it, it’s just the wrong person for me (no offence, Machiavelli).
The story itself made me think that it might be based on true events that have happened, as people’s lives tend to be so plain and uneventful (especially if they work from home) and that would be fine, if there would be a bit more action, I guess a bit more descriptions of Chibi’s life, perhaps her point of view (what am I saying – perhaps? Chibi’s point of view would have been awesome!).
I was crying at one point in the book and it made me think and remember cat thoughts and feelings from my own life and picturing that it would be my last cat, which suited the character description perfectly. I am sure that that was the reason why I understood the emotions so well. But relating so far with the cat-feels, I was a bit unsettled that the events with Big Sister developed so fast in this book. I understand that it happened in a much longer time in the book, but still it felt like it was just a few weeks, too fast to be ready for such a turn.
I loved how the book ended with that unanswered question about Chibi’s visits and choice not to visit that one day. WHY? That question can never be answered and was genius, but at the same time it pained me so much – it could never be answered. Because I wanted to know and that’s exactly why it was so genius.
This book received two stars from me on my goodreads page and I don’t even know to whom I would recommend this book. I guess to cat lovers, but only those who are like me – they have enough love for just one cat, not all of them. And I might add that it should be for those who actually own a cat. Just one cat. And I’m positive that people who love a light philosophical novel would enjoy this one a lot. It has really good ratings on goodreads (mine unfortunately dragged it down a bit), so give it a try!
This book was a closure to get over ‘Me and Earl and Dying Girl’, because honestly – I disliked that book so much that I couldn’t get over it and I just did not like anything I would start to read. That’s why I chose something about cats (whom I love) and from an Asian author in a completely different setting then classical European and American bestsellers. It worked for this purpose and I feel even stronger inclined to never recommend Jesse Andrews’ book to anyone as it gave me such trouble to trust literature again. I’m so sorry about it. Even making a sad face while writing this, but what can you do, there’s no love potion to love all the books.