Felines and farewells

Felines and farewells

Apr 30, 2024Alan Wong

Beware the cat, dear reader. Though it may be a relentless killer of small animals, its antics feed an appetite starving for cute cuddly things, and its yowls can rend even the hardest of cat-hating hearts. What is behind the spell this creature casts upon us?

If you're looking for answers in The Goodbye Cat by Hiro Arikawa, author of The Travelling Cat Chronicles, you may be disappointed. What you'll find instead are more examples of the magic that cats weave into the lives of those who adopt them.

Translated from the original Japanese edition, Mitorineko, by Philip Gabriel, with illustrations by painter Yukata Murakami, this book comprises six moving stories and a short diary-type piece, all about cats and their humans. And in most of these stories, the cats are quite the characters themselves but only the reader knows what they're thinking.

The titular story, also the first, is about a cat who hopes to become a spirit once it reaches a certain age. This story and five others are similar in theme, tone and feel, save for "The Night Visitor" that reads like a bunch of rants about how a cat bothers its owner at night for treats and such.

Other stories in this collection include that of an anxious and seemingly socially awkward manga artist who learns how to care for his newborn while parenting a stray kitten, and one about a cat who recognises the good qualities of a supposedly bad father. In another story, a boy who struggles to come to terms with his father's remarriage visits an island of cats and is helped out by an unexpected character.

The humans in these stories may not all be enthusiastic about their furry companions coming into their lives, but when it's time to go, parting is difficult. A couple of stories feature characters from The Travelling Cat Chronicles, which seem to add more to their backstory and that book.

Cats are not universally loved but one is hard-pressed to find anything to dislike about these stories. The author weaves plain language into portraits depicting the ways cats touch their owners' lives, as stirring and tender as Murakami's cat paintings that front each story. Like many felines, the stories and themes worm their way into our hearts and minds, begging for a forever home, while threatening to wring tears from softer hearts.

This is a short book, one that you might be able to finish before your hot beverage turns cold. Nevertheless, there's a risk that the words will follow you around like a clingy kitty long after you put it down. As this compilation resoundingly affirms, all good things must end, so cherish them while you can because before you know it, it's time to say goodbye.

This review was based on an advance reading copy. Get The Goodbye Cat here.

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