In a story of two emotionally distant people, Japanese author Takashi Hiraide expertly evokes powerful feelings of love, loss, and friendship in his novel The Guest Cat. The life of the unnamed narrator and his wife, both writers, is calm and simple until the appearance of their neighbors’ cat, Chibi. Warmth and caring slowly seep into their relationship, with each other and with Chibi, due to the cat’s appearance. Gradually their lives change in subtle yet impactful ways. Finding out they have to leave their home coincides with an abrupt end to Chibi’s visits, and suddenly their newly established lifestyle is in disarray. The narrator describes his life experiences, relationships, and surroundings with simple clarity and beautiful awareness. At one point, as an attempted distraction from loss, the narrator immerses himself in a book on geometry and his reflection on this tactic illustrates his voice throughout the novel:
But perhaps I had embarked on this line of thought merely to distract myself from my own anger and grief. It’s not as if I was actually prepared to waste my time attempting to perform triangular surveying. I was merely seeking comfort in the thought that something as serenely transparent as an ancient surveying method might be applicable to this place of loss and bewilderment where I now found myself.
Having published numerous books of poetry, Hiraide’s poetic experience shines through in his prose as well. His language is gentle and deliberate, pulling the reader in with meticulous details, a style that fits perfectly with the generally peaceful course of the characters’ lives. While focused on one clear plotline, Hiraide’s storytelling, translated to English by Eric Selland, incorporates smaller transformations and events along the way that give The Guest Cat even more depth. The narrator’s description of fate at the beginning foreshadows the set up of the novel, both stylistically and contextually:
As it surges forward people flee, but ultimately they succumb to the water’s momentum. Nothing—no one escapes.
Living beings, in turning a corner, or in producing the movements required to enter the crack in a certain partially opened door, are endowed with certain properties, something which produces its own little river. These daily movements are repeated, and a certain tendency—a certain current if you will—is generated. Then this minor current, because it is a current, must at some point flow into a larger river.
The seemingly minor subplots of Hiraide’s The Guest Cat merge throughout the novel to create a forceful narrative that will captivate any reader.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .