There was a lot going on in this short book and I will try and be as disciplined as possible in reviewing it, rather than interpreting it, as right now I want nothing more than just to sit down with someone else who has read it so we can talk about how GOOD that was.
Title: The Cat and the City
Author: Nick Bradley
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication Date: 4th June 2020
This is a book with LAYERS. Onions and onions of layers.
First off, it is a great collection of short stories – they all take place in Tokyo and are entwined around each other – some take place before and after the previous story. Most are in prose, but a couple have slightly different approaches – one contains a manga strip, another is based around a detective’s case notes, and another is closer to a personal monologue.
It is also an interesting range of short stories – they are a wide variety of different characters, personalities, ages and experiences – some are genuinely unpleasant to read, others are delightful. Some are Japanese, were born in Tokyo or Hiroshima, for example, and others are international. It’s all very … human.
Then there’s how these stories relate. The first is of Naomi, a green-eyed woman who goes to a traditional tattooist and asks for a tattoo of Tokyo across her back. The tattoo artists includes a small calico cat, who also features, either directly or indirectly in all of the other stories. But is it the cat that links the stories? Or the larger story of how a calico cat is a feature of sci fi story written by a man that also seems to link to so many of the other characters. Is the cat part of that story, or the story part of that cat?
And the characters too – some are related to each other, or friends, or overhear someone else’s conversation, or form part of someone’s backstory, or an encounter in their day. They are all small details, small ants, in the workings of a much more complex machine like Tokyo.
There were lots of clever links and hints, and I loved finding them, as well as learning more about a place I know little about.
As a Westerner, I felt as though I learnt so much more about Japanese culture and traditions. I don’t know if a Japanese reader would feel the same – they might feel that some aspects of their culture and of Tokyo were being stereotyped, or over-hyped, but there were also so many different stories and personalities, that it makes it hard to generalise any one as being typically ‘Japanese’. As the writer himself is not Japanese, I hope he is viewed as a Japanologist, rather than a Japanophile.
In any case, for this reader, it was PERFECT.
Much of the story also relates to the upcoming excitement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – although that has been postponed for a year, it has not changed the value of the book at all. In fact, it makes the story feel a little more sci fi – like the Copy Cat story it contains, which is like the heart of the novel – which works perfectly.
It’s a little bit Illustrated Man, it’s a little bit Cloud Atlas, but with the same wistful air that I’ve found from Japanese writers, and for me it was one of the best things I’ve read this year.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.