Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
A green-eyed talking ginger tabby is a quirky character to steer the reader’s attention into considering the value, importance and power of books. Fantasy, colourful and intriguing, equips a narrative that is both charming and thought provoking.
Besides this well-read, even philosophical feline, who is able to quote from The Little Prince, there is Rintaro, a teenage Japanese boy, who is a Hikikomori or recluse. Unlike many boys of his generation, he is not addicted to gaming. Rather, like his grandfather, he is a lover of reading. When his much-loved grandparent dies, Rintaro inherits his secondhand bookshop, Natsuki Books.
Loath to attend school, he lives there in the bookshop. A school monitor, Sayo, checks on him and slowly a friendship grows. She, too, meets and interacts with the talented cat and soon after the adventure begins.
The trio visit three different labyrinths. The first one is full of vast locked cases crammed with books. The man who owns all that believes that power depends on the number of books read. Some days he reads 1,000: the total stands at 67,622!
Rintaro and Sayo point out that is not the true value of books and attempt to free the thousands of imprisoned volumes.
An astonishing second labyrinth introduces a man reducing books to their essence, sometimes a single word or sentence. Pages are cut and discarded ruthlessly. He believes that, in today’s world, time-poor people cannot devote the hours required to read books such as a Russian novel, therefore he simplifies their task.
Rintaro argues that reading a great book is like climbing a mountain. After all the effort, there is a breathtaking view. Taking a train (such as the Bullet) is a poorer, though faster, way to appreciate the country than by walking.
The temperature drops alarmingly in the third labyrinth, where a commanding woman awaits. She has Sayo in her clutches. The cat has disappeared…
This forbidding character is aware of the events in the other labyrinths and is curious to learn what the true value of books – is it to impart messages, hand down a philosophy, present challenging truths?
There is a cynical allusion to the poor quality of books currently being published, forgotten almost immediately, lacking power or soul.
Rintaro realises that all his learning gained by reading fine literature bestows that rare quality – empathy.
No mention is made in this novel of the audible book. Busy people rely on this medium increasingly. Annual sales are soaring 25% around the world. It is a way to access books when doing repetitive and mundane tasks. The bleak outlook for the future of reading books diminishes but of course, Dickens, the Victorians, and their like may be omitted.
Sosuke Natsukawa has written an entertaining novel which would appeal to all who know the wonder of entering myriad times and worlds. The translator, Louise Heal Kawai, has done an excellent job in bringing The Cat Who Saved Books to the English reader.
As the wise man once said, “He who does not read, lives in a tiny world.” Rintaro and Sayo certainly would agree, as would their erudite feline companion….
The Cat Who Saved Books
by Sosuke Natsukawa
ISBN 978 152905 210 7