Monday, December 03, 2007
I am a Cat.Soseki Natsume.Tuttle Publishing.2002.Translated by aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson.Introduction and 638pages.
This novel started out as a short story and gradually grew by installments into the three volume publication I recently read.
In a nutshell its a collection of observations of a cat living in an upper middle class household in Meiji era Japan.This was a period of social change and economic growth as well as a time of conflict with the Russo-Sino War in the background.
As the book develops the cats descriptions of human foibles extend to cover not only the society and times it lives in to more general human attributes found in all societies.
Soseki's writing and description of the teachers household where the cat lived reminded me at times of P.G Wodehouse's domestic farces with characters similiar to Bertie Wooster and his Aunt coming to mind.Theres a very funny breakfast scene laid out from page 494 in which the father is oblivious to the chaos and mayhem of his daughters eating habits.
The cat also describes in length a bathhouse scene and also ruminates on other diverse subjects as clothes and the nuisance of letters requesting money.
There are many quotable extracts too numerous to list.I think the cats view of humans
can be summed up though in the following..."It is painfully easy to define human beings.They are beings who,for no good reason at all,create their own unnecessary suffering."(page 493).
Theres a very full introduction which explains how the book came about.Theres also an admission by the translators that it was difficult to translate into English because of the authors "brilliant and concise use of the Japanese language".I did find myself at times reaching for my Thesaurus when encountering words such as "unpetrine" or "infundibular" but overall found the book flowed well with no glaring clunky or awkward constructions bearing in mind it was written in installments from 1905 to 1906.Do be warned however that the introduction gives away the fate of the unnamed cat which for me somewhat spoilt the ending.
As with his much shorter novel Botchan I read earlier this year I'd recommend this book for its style,quality of writing and satire.