Well this just shows how on the money and in the loop I am... best not come to me for the latest in the book world...
The Endsleigh theme for this month was The Land of the Rising Sun. Any book, any interpretation of that theme. Sometimes I can think very laterally and go for the very obscure but on this occasion my imagination went no further than Japan. It was Japan or nothing.
Having thrown in the towel on my planned attempt at David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (present tense defeated me in the end but it is working like magic on audio book) I scoured the Japanese shelf, because yes indeed I do have one. The usual supects, Murakami, Ishiguro, a sumptuous and impulsively bought copy of The Tale of Genji, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, Yoko Ogawa, Fumiko Enchi, Junchiro Tanizaki all present and correct. So I sat down with a big pile of suitables one evening feeling sure one would appeal...and not one of them did. I started the much-lauded Norwegian Wood by Murakami, not for the first time, and not for the first time by page fifty I was slightly bored by the teenage angst. Book after book seemed intense, a bit depressing...a bit...well Japanese.
What a daft thing to say.
Is it the translation that makes a Japanese novel seem slightly detached and ethereal and other-worldly.
Does English not hold the right inflection and meaning to cope with the words.
Is Japanese a bit like Inuit with its fifty words for snow..
Can anyone explain...
I'm not sure but all I knew was I was in trouble. I'd be going to the book group without a book.
'Hmm... nicely Japanese, ' I thought.
A slim volume (this is good, I am a bit fatigued after The Luminaries experience) and the cat's eyes, shiny blue green did for me so I splashed out my £7.99 accordingly.
And then I discover that The Guest Cat, a book I had never heard of nor seen in a bookshop anywhere, was last year's surprise best-seller. A word of mouth sensation that saw it flying off the shelves last Christmas, 20,000 copies, one shop's biggest paperback seller of the year. I can only think it is because this time last year I was becoming increasingly anxious about the Tinker.
Kris Doyle of Picador suggests...
"It's become a hit simply because people have such a passion for it, and also because of its carpe diem ethos, its sense of mindfulness. Yes, it is ostensibly about a cat, but it's more than that. It's about how to manage your relationship, how observant we are in the world, in nature. The scenes of them playing with Chibi in the garden remind us how beautiful the world can be, and how much we miss of it when we keep our heads down at work. The whole thing has a fabular quality to it."
A couple, thinly disguised as the author and his wife, move into a rented house in the grounds of the Big House in Tokyo. The elderly couple who let it to them are struggling to cope and quickly their lives deteriorate until they have to move into care leaving the tenants the freedom of the grounds. A neigbour's cat, Chibi, initially diffident and aloof, chooses to spend an increasing amount of time with them, making herself at home and quickly working her way into the couple's affections.
And before long she's doing the whole sleeping in a box, eating mackerel and playing with a ping-pong ball thing and the couple's love for her knows no bounds.
I think I was supposed to be delving into the deep psychological and philosophical themes that are undoubtedly present in a book that focuses on self-awareness and mindfulness and ownership and ultimately the usurping of that. But all I could think about was Inga More's wonderful Six Dinner Sid. This feels a bit like sacrilege given the reverence with which everyone seems to have hailed The Guest Cat so I hope I can be forgiven this first thought.
Sid is the cat who lives and eats in six different homes until caught out on a visit to the vets, and the fact that as I was reading The Guest Cat Magnus happened to have gone off on what turned out to be a four day wander, the longest yet. Maybe he saw the green-eyed cat on the cover and took fright, who can know, and though we kept saying 'He'll be home any minute,' secretly we were both thinking 'Curtains, its the shooting season.' whilst hoping that he had done a Chibi or a Sid and made himself comfy on someone else's sofa....although there aren't that many sofas nearby.
It is three and a half years since we were selected, and of all the cats we have ever been chosen by, Magnus is the one who loves and seeks out human company. The others could take it or leave it as young cats, certainly wouldn't sit on a lap or be held for long, but as many of you know, Magnus came to live with us as a weeny kitten, thrown out by his feral mum to fend for himself at barely six weeks old. We bathed him, tucked him inside jumpers and carried him around and nurtured him, and as a consequence I think we imprinted as his parents and 'on us' is still his favourite place to be. He will do a running jump onto a lap, nuzzle a chin and have a chat before curling up and nodding off, he will always come and find us and say hello when he comes in....so when he goes off on a wander it is very out of character.
Maybe his Inner Feral will out just occasionally.
But in a way this all segued wonderfully with my reading of The Guest Cat as the couple find themselves slowly besotted by their visitor. Pining for Chibi when she wasn't there, wondering what might have happened to her if she missed a day. It's a bizarre anxiety that no one really likes to own up to where cats are concerned, they are considered independent and free-thinking and good at doing their own thing...not much cat-training to be done beyond the house-training bit, but the emotional bond is a powerful one and Takashi Hiraide captures the obsessive and unique nature of that perfectly.
If you like cats you will love this one. If you don't like cats there is still plenty to make you think... I suspect we all have people or pets in our lives who can switch that anxiety button on, and there is much here about taking the time to notice what is happening in our immediate world.
Oh yes, and my bookmark choice was an easy one...
Two Cats and Flowers by Elizabeth Blackadder because, as becomes apparent, Chibi is one cat leading two separate lives and there is probably another whole philosophical seam to be mined there too.
If you have read The Guest Cat I would love to know your thoughts...
Was I the only one not to have heard of it...
And if you haven't read it I would still be pleased to know that we aren't the only people who have to admit to not sleeping too well when the cat goes missing.
And any more cat-themed novels to recommend...
As for the return of Magnus. Disappeared out for his Sunday night wanderings after watching Downton stretched out on my lap; in and waiting for food on Thursday morning and very pleased to see us, his Whiskas and his basket...