Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Guest Cat by Hiraide Takashi

A book I've found myself purposefully taking my time with, The Guest Cat was originally published by New Directions and recently again in an edition from Picador, in a translation from Eric Selland. The prose as you may expect has a poetic quality, Hiraide's poetry is also available in translation in For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut, not only can this poeticism be felt in the prose but also in some of the imagery that it conjures up; a pair of mating birds observed by the narrator fly away as one beating heart, and with it there are a number of originally imaginative concepts, one being the house the couple live in with it's optical phenomena obfuscating the reflections in it's glass windows of it's passers-by. The Guest Cat brings together various strands and moments in transition, set in a Tokyo suburb the central narrator is an editor, who turns writer, and his wife who are renting an outbuilding and through circumstances with the family who own the main house they find themselves having to move out and find a new place to live, the book is made up with short observational chapters that at the end of the book the narrator confirms have been compiled from journal entries and essays written for various publications. An added sense of transition is felt also in the time period that the book crosses, that of the passing of the Shōwa period, and the dawning of the Heisei, the narrator notes the inflating and unaffordable price of property, marking the demise of the bubble economy, when starting out on their search for alternative accommodation, but at the centre of the book is the appearance of a cat who visits the couple.

The tone of the narrative is on the whole a deeply contemplative one, it subtly shifts emanating at times from the interior with glances to the exterior and throughout and central to it is the enigma of the cat's appearance. Through the chapters the narrator attempts to decode it's contrary nature through observation and subtle experiment, obviously metaphors can be drawn and parallelled between the mystery of the cat with that of the wider predicaments of the narrator's life, and it's unavoidable to be reminded of Wagahai wa Neko de Aru, although it obviously bears and displays more of a contemporary tone, The Guest Cat ventures into exploring the spatial quality of human relationships, and subtly shifting on to notions of mortality, similar to Soseki's novel with a central feline guest. The simplicity of the prose deftly transforms the density of some of the larger themes that before you realise it you find yourself in the midst of contemplating, some of these are conveyed in some of the observational imagery, the snapshot battle being carried out between a kamakiri and a semi, most of these set amongst the repeated appearance of the Keyaki trees in the grounds of the house, a deeply rewarding and contemplative read.  

The Guest Cat at New Directions and Picador

The New Modernism



Anonymous said...

An interesting take on this book, thank you.

I have just finished it myself and although I enjoyed some of the more poetic musings I felt the actual story was a little bit lightweight. It lacked substance, for me.

me. said...

Thanks for the comment, perhaps an aspect I failed to mention is that in many places it makes for pretty nuanced reading doesn't it?. I enjoyed the observational quality to the narrative, it retained it's sense of the transitory.

Very much like to read a copy of, 'For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut'.