Continuing my interest in Japanese fiction books, I stumbled upon The Guest Cat written by Takashi Hiraide. I have two cats at home and I have not yet read any books or longer materials about cats. I started to think about the relationships between humans and cats, leaving me to think that The Guest Cat would be an excellent book to read next. The quoted reviews certainly set a high bar for this book, a New York Times Bestseller.
Set mainly in a guesthouse on a larger Japanese estate, The Guest Cat is centred around the relationship between a husband and wife and a cat owned by a neighbour. The cat, Chidi, slowly comes into the lives of the husband and wife, eventually reaching the point where the cat enters into their house. Chidi was given a box in which to rest and a food bowl regularly topped up with food by the wife. Chidi would lay to rest next to the husband and wife, despite them not owning the cat. It was their neighbours who owned Chidi but yet the cat came to visit multiple times a day.
This book deals with the theme of affection towards animals. Throughout the first few chapters, it is clear that Chidi becomes an important part of the main characters’ lives. The wife kept a notebook in which she would write details about what Chidi would do in a day. Once, Chidi was hostile when the wife offered food, leading to a break in their relationship. But the pair grew closer after a while, developing a special bond. It is clear by the amount of detail in which the actions of Chidi were documented that the cat meant more to the husband and wife than just being the neighbour’s cat.
On the estate on which the husband and wife lived, there was an expansive garden that they could explore. They rarely did until later on when the people who occupied the main house were no longer able to live there; the husband fell ill and the wife moved into an elderly home. Realising their time was coming near to an end, the husband and wife explored the property, taking more notice of what was going around them. Throughout the book, tales are told of doing the gardening and coming into contact with insects which were all over the place in the garden.
In the middle of the book, disaster strikes. At this point, the theme of grief is introduced, showing just how much the death of an animal – not even an animal you own – can affect someone who has developed a relationship with that animal. The husband and wife decided not to get their own cat, unlike the neighbours who later got a new cat. The husband and wife wanted Chidi back. Although this was not possible, processing the death of Chidi was difficult.
Later chapters show how much Chidi meant to the husband and wife, as the pair look to find a new house because they are no longer able to stay on the estate. The owner of the estate decides to sell up to prevent their children having to pay excessive inheritance taxes when such a time comes that the plot would enter their ownership. Perhaps in an attempt to block out some of the feelings associated with Chidi’s death, the husband researched geometry to find out where they could live while still being able to see a tree near which Chidi lay to rest. He realises this is not a long-term solution, but still opts to search for houses from which you can see the tree near where Chidi is buried.
Although this book explores the themes of grief and recovery, it was not so much a sad tale as a reflection on what it is like to develop a relationship with a cat. I found myself thinking many times about the cats I have at home and how many discussions revolve around their sometimes predictable but oftentimes erratic behaviour. It would be nice to know what goes on in the mind of a cat, but I think the mystery adds to why it is so easy to develop a relationship with a cat. The husband and wife were not allowed to touch Chidi, but touch was not necessary for the husband and wife.
This book is easy to read and a tale that made me reflect on my present relationships with my cats. Although, I do not think you need to be a cat owner to appreciate this excellent piece of literature. The simple tales of Chidi entering through a low window, or how Chidi would sleep in a specific place in the husband and wife’s house, make me stop and think about how many little details in life that I forget.