The Guest Cat
Hiraide, about whom I know not enough, is a Japanese poet in his 60s, but the impression lingers that The Guest Cat is set three decades earlier, and is partially auto-biographical.
Chibi is the cat from next door who doesn’t recognise boundaries and slowly becomes acquainted with the new young couple, a writer and a proof reader.
This is a novella in which change is constant, and Hiraide alludes to the impermanency that we are all subject to with simple vignettes, which nonetheless work.
His writing has the patient discipline of a tanka, such as this description of winter: ‘the faded purple of the garden’s saffron was now waning.’
It is a story of change, bookended by the arrival of a cat, and its departure. Cats will always come and go, whether they stay a week or ten years.
Nothing becomes a cat like the manner of their arrival, so sudden, and their departure, equally so. A cat is never owned. It owns. The economy of a cat’s movement is reflected in Hiraide’s prose.
Anybody who understands our feline friends will acknowledge and relish Hiraide’s descriptions. Chibi ‘seemed to find pleasantly comfortable the combination of this twilight nook with its human smell and the softness of the cushions.’
As someone who lives with cats, Hiraide’s profound story, devoid of any garnish, reads wonderfully and truthfully. If you prefer dogs, the empathy may not transfer as successfully.
For those who have been bereaved by a cat and have aural memories of their breathing whilst sleeping, this book might be an ideal unguent to salve the pain of loss.