This was a bit of a mixed bag for me – I was expecting more cat and more books, rather than a discussion of high literature, how to read the right way and emphasising what a shut-in the main character is. Part of that I know fits with the style and genre of Japanese literature, but this just didn’t rate highly for me overall.
Title: The Cat Who Saved Books
Author: Sosuke Natsukawa
Publication Date: 16th September 2021
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, Picador
Rating: 3 stars
Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.
After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone…
In many ways, this read as an homage to a love for books, but about how to truly use and relate to books, rather than just owning, collecting and possessing them.
The story itself is quite plain and simple – something I’m fairly used to from other Japanese literature that I’ve read – but that doesn’t always make it palatable. Instead we see a quite dispassionate approach to a young boy mourning his grandfather in isolation, and a very straightforward, fairy-tale-like logic to a talking cat appearing and encouraging him to go on small adventures that help to cement his own principles and morals. In this light we see what reading literature can impart to us, even the most quiet or unassuming person.
However, what this reads as is a manifesto about how we should be reading books, especially in a time of BookTok and Bookstagram where having gobbets, popular favourites and a more interactive approach to literature is essential and accessible. Instead, this story tells us that we should feel ashamed for collecting pretty books, getting excited about similar books or having piles of unread material.
Which means that instead of offering a story about the true power of books, this comes across as quite preachy. If you’re transgressing against literature by doing any of the things from the three labyrinths then you don’t truly love books.
This resulted in 3 stars from me.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.