“The Guest Cat,” Takashi Hiraide’s 2001 novel (translated by Eric Selland), focuses on a married couple whose lives are slowly infiltrated by Chibi, a neighborhood cat. Chibi’s particular presence is unusual: she comes and goes as she pleases, refuses to be held, and possesses a startlingly human awareness of time and routine. The narrator’s wife picks up on this tendency and becomes fond of Chibi, leaving a curtained window open for her to come and go and placing fried mackerel in the cat’s special dish.
The charm of Hiraide’s work, however, is not solely attributable to Chibi. Hiraide’s voice is clearly that of a poet, and the novel itself reads like a prose poem replete with dragonflies, gentle breezes, and still gardens. The author’s skill becomes apparent as we are placed in this garden, and as we begin to notice the constant small movements present in supposedly still spaces. Hiraide reminds us of these signs of life: living beings generate immeasurable chains of movement, and these movements, when repeated, create stronger and stronger currents of “tendency.”
This short novel is about a unique and funny little cat, to be sure, but it also about tendencies, habits, routines, and the way an unexpected happening can re-form and re-imagine these things. Though Chibi is not a constant presence, her movements in and out of the narrator’s sphere leave a lasting impression. By the end of “The Guest Cat,” the reader is reminded that even a life which seems to be still and stagnant is sculpted by the impressions left by other souls.