2 main factors that I found this book to be an enjoyable read are:
- The writing style “feels” like it was written by a cat
- The observations about human social/behaviour are hilarious.
All of which might seem surprising as it was written in Japanese by Natsume Sōseki over a century ago. The whole meeyow is on the book’s Wikipedia entry. Its a credit to the translators to carry over the cat like feel of the writing from the original Japanese.
The book is narrated by a stray cat adopted by a Meiji era middle class family. I think the cat like feeling is invoked by the choice of detail presented by the narrating cat. Everything seems to be viewed from below human eye level or from some sort of perch. The humans are a curious lot with many puzzling qualities. The most annoying it their tendency to disrupt naps a supremely important practice in feline life. Perhaps this is a motive to satirise the humans – a very catty response. Yet the humour is contrasted by the cat’s Hobbsian view of life (nasty, brutish and short). Yet he/it never actually says so in some sort of grand philosophical monologue. The cat seems to view his hard pre-adoption life of suffering as the norm. The cushy life as house cat he views as an illusionary break. Even that too has its petty humiliations however insignificant (getting laughed at while being stuck to a rice ball is one of the least grim ones).
This attitude comes across in passing comments on the hilarious antics of the humans. All of which are “showings” of incidents/goings on from the cat’s daily life. There are no philosophical monologues (naps are more important). Its a combination that made me admire the peace the cat has made with his circumstance in life. He makes his remarks not out of spite but out of what seems to be a simple honesty. Despite the satire, I don’t recall ever finding his descriptions cruel. To push the theorising further I’d say the cat’s attitude to life is built on a purr of kindness. Yet he will not make a virtue out of it. I think its this attitude humanises aristocratic tone of feline’s writing style in to being comedic without being nasty.
Natsume Sōseki wrote this book as a social satire of his time. Yet the cultural adaptations the humans go through is no doubt timeless which is another reason this might sound very contemporary. The episodic nature of the book stems from the fact that it originally written in instalments for a literary journal. There’s hardly a plot. I could be summed up as “stuff that happened between naps”.
I confess that I read the book a long time ago and the details of the story are a bit fuzzy (like how it end which doesn’t really matter). This post is a result of a memory jolt caused by Indi’s cat post. All I have is a languid smile from satisfying after taste of good read.