The Guest Cat begins in 1988 when a stray cat comes into the lives of a middle-aged couple, both writers. The cat is initially adopted by a neighbouring child and comes to be known as Chibi. Chibi’s visits to the couple gradually increase and she is shown to subtly influence their lives as they grow accustomed to each other. She has a calming effect on the household, even though she is a free spirit, coming and going as she pleases. The author exquisitely explores the emotional attachment the couple form with their guest, and highlights both the joy of observation and companionship.
Hiraide has magnificent attention to detail, providing intricate descriptions of place, particularly the gardens and neighbourhood in which the couple reside. He emphasises the eccentricities of both animals and people and instead of voicing the cat, as humans tend to do, he shows Chibi’s personality through her behaviour and intimately captures her characteristics.
The Guest Cat is not an exciting book, but a gentle read interwoven with philosophy, history and intertextuality. The role of fate in everyday life also features prominently. Hiraide includes cultural events of the time, such as the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989, and my edition contains translators notes which help to understand some of the cultural references. It is about times of change in both the characters of the book and the nation. The Guest Cat is a petite book with short chapters, making it an easy read.
While I am a cat lover, I don’t think you need to be one to enjoy the author’s beautiful prose. The Guest Cat is not just about the relationship between people and animals, but finding peace in times of loss. I’m unsure if the book is autobiographical, but I do think it must have autobiographical elements. Like the protagonists of the story, Hiraide and his wife are both writers and they do have a cat.
“By the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, The Guest Cat is a subtly moving novel that conveys deeply felt ways of being. Two writers, a young couple, enjoy their quiet cottage in a leafy part of Tokyo they work at home as freelance editors. One day a cat invites herself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys, radiated by the fleeting loveliness of life, accompany the cat; the days take on more light and color.”