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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Guest Cat

Hiraide Takashi

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To purchase The Guest Cat

Title: The Guest Cat
Author: Hiraide Takashi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Guest Cat - US
The Guest Cat - UK
The Guest Cat - Canada
The Guest Cat - India
Le chat qui venait du ciel - France
  • Japanese title: 猫の客
  • Translated by Eric Selland

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Our Assessment:

B : fine small, reflective novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 30/12/2014 Nicholas Lezard
The Japan Times A 31/5/2014 Paul McCarthy
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/3/2014 V.V.Ganeshananthan
Publishers Weekly A 2/12/2013 .
World Lit. Today . 3-4/2015 Erik R. Lofgren

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is a gentle, thoughtful and subtly profound work, utterly without pretension or pyrotechnics (.....) And at the end, you find yourself confronted with a mystery; a small mystery, perhaps, but one that certainly gives you pause to think. You will want to read The Guest Cat more than once, so you notice more details -- seeing as you canít do this with life." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "I suspect it is a work all of whose subtleties will be revealed only with repeated readings, and I recommend it unreservedly to the general reader." - Paul McCarthy, The Japan Times

  • "The language and descriptions are careful, elegant and lovely; while Hiraideís book is ostensibly about a cat, it is more precisely about space and ownership. The book renders an unusually intimate, detailed and vivid picture of a place that is simultaneously private and open." - V. V. Ganeshananthan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is a short and subtle story, but remarkable in the number of layers packed into the gorgeous and textured, lolling rhythm of its prose (.....) This is a beautiful, ornate read, brimming with philosophical observation, humor and intelligence" - Publishers Weekly

  • "Although the novel reads quickly -- Sellandís translation is engagingly fluid -- and offers moments of insight through unexpected juxtapositions, the loss felt by the couple is mirrored by the sense of incompleteness with which readers are left at the end of the story. One cannot help feeling that the novel had aspirations toward being a novel of love, but the love represented in its pages is, ultimately, a shallow one. (...) Still, The Guest Cat is a pleasurable enough diversion that, rather surprisingly, lingers long after the book has been set aside." - Erik R. Lofgren, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Guest Cat is set in a time of transition. Moving to what used to be the guesthouse of a larger property, the nameless narrator soon later quits his job, in 1987, to dedicate himself to writing full-time. An old friend dies the next year, while the old couple living on the property's main house (and from who the narrator and his wife are renting theirs) are also in decline, eventually moving to an old-age home, the man then dying and his wife wanting to settle the estate by putting the property on the market. The long Shōwa era comes to an end with the death of emperor Hirohito in 1989, and the couple move out of the guesthouse soon later, just at the tail-end of Japan's property boom, which soon heads towards a big bust (first published a decade after the events of the close of the book, Japanese readers of The Guest Cat were well-aware of where things were headed in the story).
       The small novel closely describes the home the narrator and his wife lived in for these few years (though they had some use of the main house, too, after the owners moved out and asked them to look after it a bit). Cats also feature fairly prominently, in particular a neighbor's cat, Chibi, who takes to coming around and making herself at home (though never forgetting its actual owners either -- always returning to see off the young boy in the family on his way to nursery school in the morning, for example).
       The narrator's wife ("an eccentric in her own right") explains the relationship:

Chibi is a friend with whom I share an understanding, and who just happens to have taken the form of a cat.
       In part, The Guest Cat is about things they can't have: repeatedly, the narrator considers how they might purchase at least the guest house once the property is sold off, but realizes it will never be possible. Though the rental property is, in a sense, theirs (at least for the term of their lease) it is even still called 'the guesthouse'; they also eventually have some use of the main house, yet it is never really in any way theirs. Similarly, even though Chibi is a frequent visitor, she never becomes their cat (and their relationship with the cat does eventually become an issue of sorts with the actual owners) -- she is always just the temporary 'guest cat' of the title.
       What appropriation the narrator is capable of is through writing -- though he argues:
     But a piece of writing, no matter how you interpret it, isn't the same thing as an abduction. The act of writing also crosses borders indiscriminately. Wouldn't there be a way to cleanse that looming thing between the neighbor and myself -- to purify boundaries and all by performing an even closer examination of the issue through writing ?
       The Guest Cat has a feline feel, in its meandering -- there seems to be an awful lot of apartment-hunting, for example -- and lack of an obvious purpose to much of the action. Chibi remains a mystery -- and has definite boundary-issues -- so she remains unknowable in many respects, and the novel too keeps a certain distance (the narrator never even revealing his (or anyone's) name, for example).
       All in all, while The Guest Cat has considerable melancholy charm, it can feel entirely too deliberate.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 January 2014

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The Guest Cat: Reviews: Hiraide Takashi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Hiraide Takashi (平出隆) was born in 1950.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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