Monday, 23 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A Book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you

Animal interest stories are always popular in this country. The Guest Cat was a surprise bestseller partly due to the fact it had a cute cat drawing on the front. If however you are expecting this to be written along the same lines as A Streetcat Named Bob or Dewey the Library Cat you will be disappointed. This is fictional and told in a very different style to a lot of the animal books that are so popular.

How to describe this book? It does have a narrative with the progression of the characters lives, how they need to move house and so on but it doesn't have the drive of a mainstream novel. Hmm, not being very clear, am I? Okay. Think of the book as a whole as being a big open blue sky. The chapters are clouds that pass across that sky. They float, they meander, they sail across that sky bordering occasionally bordering on the insubstantial. That's what the chapters of the story felt like to me.

This is not to say this book was difficult or something I didn't enjoy. I did enjoy it. It's just told at a different pace and in a different style to the average story. Or perhaps that should be Western story? Maybe this style is very typical of Japanese fiction? Aside from Banana Yoshimoto I can't recall reading other authors from Japan and now I come to think about it there are some similarities in style there.

The book is very tied in nature. There's the observation of the cat Chibi, and the other cats in the area, and there's also awareness of the zelkova tree that dominates the area, of the large garden next door, of the animals and insects that frequent the environment of the writing couple at the centre of the book. There's a recognition of the elements too. At one point the doors and windows of their home are flung open and the wind whistles through, toppling furniture, scattering papers, and it is only when this instinctive ritual has been completed that the house feels more like theirs. Attention is paid to the sun, the moon - there are some quite beautiful images here.

The cat is part of this focus on the natural world. The fact she belongs to a different family means she shows a different side of herself to the writing couple she takes to visiting - at least, that's how they perceive her. She is a creature of instinct, precious and beautiful because she is in essence a wild thing. Anyone with a love of animals will empathise with this, the way they look at Chibi in fascination. In spite of her small size her life force is tangible and holds them in awe.

Some of the chapters go off down rabbit holes. The narrator will focus on a specific type of art or a means of accomplishing something and that is the focus of that chapter. In 'standard' western fiction a reader might think 'a-ha! This will come into play later!' - no, by and large it doesn't. That does not detract from the book though. Attention is paid to being in the moment, to following through thought processes, to seeking an end before something fresh can begin.

One irksome thing I want to point out is that the blurb refers to the two main characters as no longer having much to say to each other. I did not think that was the case from my reading of the book. Was this how it was advertised in Japan? Or was this more for the Western market because possible marital conflict attracts more readers? No idea. Anyway, I'm one of those readers who gets irritated if the blurb isn't accurate to the book and wanted to point that out.

7 out of 10 cover cats

Are you undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge?

Tempted by this book, but already have your book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:

A book with a cat on the cover
A book by an author from a country you've never visited (if you've never been to Japan)
A bestseller from a genre you don't normally read

Other books I'd recommend for a book where the main character is a different ethnicity to you:

Hardboiled/ Hard Luck - Banana Yoshimoto (if you aren't Japanese)
The House of Madame Tellier - Guy de Maupassant (if you aren't French)

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