Since my travels this summer I’ve gotten really into translated Japanese fiction, so when I was offered a proof of The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa to get my teeth into, I couldn’t resist. I’d already seen numerous bookstagrammers raving about this story on social media and since I couldn’t see how a book about a cat could possibly have captured so many people’s hearts, I knew that I would just have to read it for myself.
Nana, a cat, is devoted to Satoru, his owner. So when Satoru decides to go on a roadtrip one day to find him a new home, Nana is perplexed. They visit Satoru’s old friends from his school days and early youth. His friends may have untidy emotional lives but they are all animal lovers, and they also wonder why Satoru is trying to give his beloved cat away. Until the day Nana suddenly understands a long-held secret about his much-loved owner, and his heart begins to break. Narrated in turns by Nana and by his owner, this funny, uplifting, heartrending story of a cat is nothing if not profoundly human.
Just from reading the blurb I didn’t understand what the hype could possibly be about, but, about half way through, I got it. The Travelling Cat Chronicles gives an insight into the thoughts of a cat, and whilst that might sound silly, this cat is one of the most interesting and unique characters I’ve ever read about. It’s impossible not to love Nana, the snarky, self-interested street cat. He adds a humorous element to an otherwise touching tale. It’s funny to read Nana’s running commentary on the actions of humans around him and it offers a refreshing perspective on all the ridiculous things humans do in the presence of cats. Why do we assume that a cat’s purr is necessarily a sign of pleasure? Perhaps it’s an involuntary reaction that even the meanest cat can’t control.
Whilst the reader is privileged to hear the thoughts of Nana directly, Satoru, his companion, must interpret them from his feline friend’s actions. This duo are somehow a perfect pairing, more so than any other two characters I’ve read about, despite the fact that they are not from the same species and do not speak the same language. There’s something very human about their relationship and I could not imagine one without the other.
For the majority of the novel, it’s not clear at all why Satoru and Nana are on this journey together. However, as the story is so beautifully written, this didn’t bother me in the slightest. I was just happy to have been invited along for the ride. However, in the last few passages of this novel, it suddenly dawned on me how this story was going to end, and oh, how I cried. It’s not until this moment that everything slots together and you appreciate just how beautiful and poignant this story of a cat and his owner on their little road trip is. I finished reading The Travelling Cat Chronicles when I was sat on the tube on the way home but that didn’t stop me from bawling in public.
In conclusion, The Travelling Cat Chronicles really surprised me and has quickly risen the ranks to become one of my favourite reads of the year. It’s only strengthened my love of Japanese fiction as so far not one single book of translated Japanese fiction has let me down. If you find that at the beginning you don’t really “get” it, please bear with it. This novel is a slow burner and you should savour each and every word along the way. If you’re an animal lover, then you have to read this. If you’re not an animal lover, you’ll still love this because there’s something so profoundly human about Satoru and Nana’s relationship, that everyone can relate to.