Over the last couple of years, I have been venturing into and growing an appreciation for Japanese literature; from contemporary to fantasy, translations of the likes of Kawaguchi and Murata (both authors I highly recommend) have been gaining prominence in British bookstores (and my bookshelf). So, when I stumbled across The Cat Who Saved Books – a book about books, booklovers, and a talking cat – I was delighted to give it a try. And it certainly did not disappoint. For the most part.
Sosuke Natsukawa delicately balances the mundane and the fantasy. We meet the young Rintaro Natsuki in the days following his grandfather’s passing. He confines himself to his grandfather’s bookstore; he stops going to school; he essentially folds in on himself. The story follows him processing the early stages of grief and trying to keep the memories of his beloved grandfather alive through his second-hand bookstore.
The two narratives of book-saving and grieving delicately blend together, with Rintaro and Tiger (the tabby’s name) finding support in each other.
Now for the fantasy element: a talking tabby comes along to whisk Rintaro away for adventures in saving books from being tarnished in the most unorthodox ways. The two narratives of book-saving and grieving delicately blend together, with Rintaro and Tiger (the tabby’s name) finding support in each other.
The story lends itself to a simplistic structure. Each of the four adventures resemble a chapter, neatly bookended by a prologue and epilogue. The structure runs the risk of becoming repetitive, however with the range of events and how they are introduced, each adventure feels refreshing and offers something new. The adventures stand out on their own while still tying in well to make a cohesive and harmonious story.
I presume the book-saving element will resonate with avid readers. There is a common acknowledgement throughout the book that there are too many books to choose from and not enough time in our lifetimes to read to our heart’s content. Struggling to choose how best to utilise reading time is one that I, and presumably many others, know all too well, and getting to explore that conundrum was really interesting. With that came an interrogation of methods we use for storing and reading. Interrogating the pressure to read as much and as quickly as possible, along with interrogating the aesthetics of how we present our (usually unread) books, are integral to the story and extremely relevant to today’s reading culture.
The individual development of every character, and their relationships with each other, were wonderful to see unfold.
I enjoyed the exploration of the antagonists and their methodologies. Each antagonist stood out individually, and each were met with empathy and compassion from our protagonist, without the narrative denying the coldness of their actions. The nuances here made each character more compelling, making them shine beyond the exciting narrative premise. The individual development of every character, and their relationships with each other, were wonderful to see unfold.
However, one character that I sadly didn’t think was sufficiently developed was the cat, who is marketed as the story’s plot. I found the book’s premise of a talking cat to be wonderful, and the moments exploring the character were well done. I loved how snarky the cat was and thought the moments we got showcasing this was an incredibly accurate depiction of cats (this being said by a cat owner); I would have personally just preferred to see more of this, and for it to be more prominent. This luckily doesn’t detract from the story; it bodes well for the cat to not overshadow the rest of the story, and the mystery element surrounding the tabby enhances the fantasy element.
I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief, however not because of the fantasy. The most unbelievable part was the holistic attitude towards a grieving child. Rintaro’s parents were entirely absent, and he consistently misses school, meaning I found it unfathomable how little urgency was given to ensuring himself a guardian. I would recommend trying not to dwell on this when reading.
To round off, I wanted to show appreciation for the setting of the bookshop. At the heart of the setting is ‘Natsuki Books’, the shop containing second-hand copies of any books you could imagine. The bookstore demonstrates an admirable appreciation for all sorts of books, and the descriptions of the shop feel cosy and remind me of the importance of both independent bookshops and second-hand books.
I believe it may be easy to perceive the dialogue and messaging as cheesy at times, however the tone was one that I welcomed. The Cat Who Saved Books is a welcoming love letter to book lovers and proves itself to be a comforting read. The style of writing and its short length makes it a quick and easy read; I would definitely recommend it, particularly for a gloomy day when you wish to search for more hope in the world.