RAD Book Club review: The Travelling Cat Chronicles

26 June 2019

For our ninth and last meeting this season RAD Book Club read The Travelling Cat Chronicles, by Japanese light novelist Hiro Arikawa (born 1972). The Travelling Cat Chronicles (Tabineko Ripouto in Japanese) first appeared in serialised form in the magazine Shukan Bunshun between 2011 and 2012. Now also turned into a film (2018) directed by Koichiro Miki, the novel follows Satoru, a young, kind man and his cat Nana. The story tells us about how Satoru met Nana and about his previous cat, Hachi. Satoru cannot look after Nana anymore so he sets out to travel around Japan to meet old acquaintances, family members and his first love to find a suitable new home for his cat. Nine of us met to participate in a conversation about family, friendship and fate.

Many of us agreed that the book is sweet and easy to read. It has some particularly cute, amusing passages. As a whole, it conveys a very positive, enthusiastic message, and Nana has an interesting attitude to life experiences and changes. The reader is taken from the present into the past and into other people’s lives. These different life stories and anecdotes provide gentle, heart-warming glimpses into some nice life occurrences, but also into some more serious life events, like the loss of friendships and the pain of separation from family members. All of this is presented in a very subtle, subdued and simple way.

We particularly enjoyed reading about the interaction between Satoru and Nana, human and cat, and how this interaction provided two views of the reality we were witnessing. Most of us enjoyed the sometimes neutral, sometimes quirky cat’s voice and point of view and its entertaining insights into humans’ habits and customs, and the interactions between the animals.

However, many of us were left feeling either like something was missing in the novel or as if we had missed something. We did not find the novel to be quite as inspirational as it portrayed itself, with rather routine observations delivered as though they were revelatory and wondered whether any of that could be due to a translation issue. We noticed that the translator, Philip Gabriel, has translated many modern Japanese novels, so we thought this might be the tone in the original rather than in the translation.

More negatively, a few found the book slack and slow and the narration was unnecessarily confusing, employing the two protagonists and a third person narrator. We found that the cat also spoke with a variable voice and had an inconsistent level of omniscience. For others, the novel lacked spice, the characters were not well rounded, and the style was simplistic and over sentimental.

Having said that, we wondered whether this novel is so culturally coded that it makes its comprehension a bit difficult for those who are not familiar with Japanese cultural norms and sensibilities. The novel carries a message of kindness, restraint, patience, acceptance and transience, which for some of us were markers of Japanese culture.

As a group we gave it a score of 5 out of 10.

Book Club will now take a brief summer break. We will be contacting you shortly to ask you to suggest some more titles for Book Club Series Five, starting September 2019. Happy reading!


Visit out RAD Book Club archive page to read past reviews.