Published by Pan McMillan, October 2021 | Fiction
This book is a wondrous little gem that will charm any book lover.
Despite its simple prose and slim spine (its 217 pages can easily be gulped down in one sitting), The Cat Who Saved Books packs in a whimsical adventure of courageous self-discovery, while underscoring the tremendous power of books.
Meanwhile, bubbling just beneath its shimmering surface, author Sosuke Natsukawa weaves in veiled criticism of contemporary literary consumption, which may cause a little squirmy discomfort to both avid readers and publishers alike.
Set in Natsukawa’s home country of Japan, a high school student, Rintaro, finds his world up-ended when his grandfather suddenly dies. The teen had lived with his grandfather above his tiny, second-hand bookshop on the edge of town, the only place where the ‘hikikomori’ (or reclusive) boy felt comfortable, immersed in novels.
As he struggles to quietly process his grief, closing himself within the safety of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, Rintaro finds himself flung into a surreal new realm when a plump ginger cat nonchalantly strolls into the bookshop.
It takes a few moments for Rintaro to realise that a deep voice he hears belongs to the tabby. Not only does the assertive cat talk, but it manages to convince Rintaro to come on a fantastical quest to save books from people who have imprisoned and mistreated them.
The quirky adventures that unfold have a distinctly anime feel to them. Rintaro’s journeys with his feline friend are brief and quite mystical, yet labyrinthine (quite literally!) and thought provoking, particularly for those who may feel a tinge of guilt about the part they may have unknowingly played in the mistreatment of novels.
This is the second novel by Natsukawa who, when not writing, practices medicine as a qualified physician at a hospital in Nagano. It follows his 2009 award-winning debut, Kamisama no Karute.
It’s been tenderly translated into English by Louise Heal Kawai Who has retained some Japanese terms with great effect.
While some may criticise the simplicity of its approach, I found this little book to be a joyful and sharp reminder of what it means to love reading.