The Guest Cat
by Takashi Hiraide, translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland. Published 2014, Picador.
It's not often you read a book, a work of fiction, that is so like life that it takes your breath away. This novel is deceptively simple and follows a man who is a writer (the narrator), his wife, and a cat, through a slim 140 pages. Nothing much 'happens,' there are the day-to-day comings and goings of a stray cat, and dealings with a neighbour. I read the book with increasing wonder at the ordinariness, captivated by the simple days of this writer (days I could identify with, being a writer myself), which gesture toward something larger. The narrator stakes out his story in a geographic way, almost the way a cat stalks—so quietly—taking mastery of its surroundings. He describes in detail his house and surroundings, very simple surroundings, but surroundings which accrue weight and meaning in an allusive and elusive way, over the course of the novel. By a magical sleight of hand, the ending comes upon you—much as a stealthy cat does—and is profound.
I haven't read anything as moving in a while, or as haunting. It's moving in the way some, perhaps most, life events actually are: events and moments seemingly small and insignificant, yet accruing weight over time; mysterious in their happening, mysterious in their import, mysterious in how we manage them; essentially unpredictable and out of our control. Some actions are final, and cannot be undone. This novel, quiet and understated as it is, carries the weight of truth, and of tragedy, even in the manner of classical Greek tragedy.
The over-arching artistry of The Guest Cat, however, lies in the first-person narration. The fictional narrator—who is also, we feel, the writer himself (Takashi Hiraide)—takes control, by telling of these events, and shaping them, and making them into a book. Of course all books are this: a writer taking control of his or her story, and making an order, a sense, of it. But this book, it seems to me, is a particularly perfect example of this, a particularly moving and profound one.