The green-eyed cat on the cover misleads the reader. It’s not a book on how cute a cat is, and how it changes a couple’s life. The Guest Cat by the Japanese writer Takashi Hiraide is something beyond that. It touches everything that one experiences, when one tries hard to cope with change and loss.
The nameless narrator and his wife live in a spacious guest house, and are visited by the neighbour’s cat — Chibi. The feline, the writer says, has two personalities — the one that she exhibits to her owners, and her natural self that she displays in the company of the writer and his wife. While the narrator’s wife has an innate love for animals, befriending a cat is an acquired taste for the narrator. As their friendship strengthens, Chibi dies in a mysterious manner. The narrator doesn’t investigate the cause of Chibi’s death. It’s not that kind of book. The Guest Cat deals with how the couple meets the void created by Chibi, who never quite belonged to them.
My heart sinks when I put myself in the couple’s place. Chibi visits them everyday, wolfs down the delicious food offered to her, and sleeps in the closet that the couple meticulously arranges just to make Chibi comfortable. She plays with the narrator’s wife, and every activity they all do together is artfully articulated. But, after she passes away, they don’t see a closure of their relationship, as Chibi’s owner refuses to allow them to visit her grave. Heartbreaking!
The Guest Cat is profound, brilliantly subtle, and its prose is lyrical. I took a while to dive in, but I lost myself in it, when the narrator began explaining the beauty of their garden, the insects, and the cat — none of it belonged to the couple, the heart-rending irony of all.
Some favourite passages here:
Having played to her heart’s content, Chibi would come inside and rest for a while. When she began to sleep on the sofa — like a talisman curled gently in the shape of a comma and dug up from a prehistoric archaeological site — a deep sense of happiness arrived, as if the house itself had dreamed this scene.
I wonder where it all comes from — this need to go to the place where the body has been laid to rest. It’s the need to reconfirm how precious someone was and how irreplaceable, and the desire to reconnect with them on a different plane.
There was no doubt that Big Sister looked like Chibi. But not matter how hard you looked — on earth or in heaven — there was no cat as otherworldly and mysterious as Chibi.
All I want to know what happened — I want to somehow grasp every detail of the events of that day, that one day like a tiny dewdrop… but now it’s all engulfed in the profound darkness of time.