The Guest Cat by Takashi HiraideTranslated by Eric SellandNew Directions, 2014

This quiet novella, which originally appeared in Japanese in 2001, is the story of a couple in their thirties who live in a suburban-ish neighborhood of Tokyo in the late 1980s, in a rented cottage that used to be a mansion’s guesthouse. Their cottage is next to an alley, and a neighbor across the alley adopts a stray cat, Chibi, who then starts to visit the couple, slipping into their house through a window they leave open for her. They feed Chibi; she naps on cushions in their closet; the narrator’s wife tosses a ping pong ball around in the garden for her. But Chibi isn’t theirs, doubly so: there is something wild in her (there’s a scene in which she bites the narrator’s wife hard enough to draw blood), and she’s really a part of the neighbor’s family, despite how much time she spends at the narrator’s house. The way things a) don’t belong to us and b) are always in flux is really the heart of the story: the narrator talks about his aging landlady and her ailing husband, who first move to an apartment complex for seniors and then decide to sell the house entirely, with the guesthouse too. So the narrator and his wife are in this space where nothing is theirs: renting a home they won’t be able to rent for much longer, with the “guest cat” visiting from next door. (Their landlady tells them to visit the empty mansion as much as they want; the narrator tends its gardens and watches them change through the seasons until he and his wife move, and even a bit afterward.)

The prose of The Guest Cat is graceful and understated: I liked passages like this:

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.(14)






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