The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa; translated by Louise Heal Kawai

This book is not very good.

But I can see why the publishers had it translated into English. It hits three very sweet spots as far as sales go: Japanese books in translation have a definite fan base these days; it’s about books and bookstores and it features a cat. Three things with very clear audience appeal.

I’ve seen it in lots of shops and my local library carries it so it must be doing fairly well.

But it’s not very good.

The story concerns a young man raised by his grandfather who has just died. The young man, a hikikomori–young man who has chosen to shut himself away from the world, inherits his grandfather’s second-hand book shop and must decide what to do with it. One morning, a talking cat appears seeking his help in rescuing a large number of books. The cat takes our hero on several quests to rescue books from different men who are hoarding or damaging them in some fashion.

Each quest is an allegory about publishing and books in general which makes it possible for the author to argue his position on books and their importance. Sometimes I thought he was right, sometimes I thought he was wrong. Most of the time I thought he was a bit preachy and didn’t really have anything deep or even interesting to say about the nature and importance of books and reading.

In the end we learn that books are meant to instill empathy in the reader. I bet you already knew that; it did not come as a revelation to me.

But, maybe The Cat who Saved Books was intended for young readers in Japan. There’s a lot here that would appeal to them, certainly to those who enjoy fantasy, and to younger readers might be discovering the authors messages about books for the first time. I think it could nbe a good book for middle schoolers.

As for me, The Cat Who Saved Books wasn’t so bad that I didn’t finish reading it, so there’s that. I’ve no hesitation when it comes to putting something into the DNF pile. And I didn’t “hate read” it the way I did the incredibly awful A Little Life which the Booker Prize is currently pushing on Instagram for some unfathomable reason. Maybe the publisher is secretly paying them; maybe they are all on drugs; I don’t know. Someone’s even made it into a play which people in London are actually paying money to see/endure. There may be a movie in the works or a ten-episode series for some streaming network focused on badly written tales about miserable people. But I digress.

In the end, I guess I wish I liked The Cat Who Saved Books. I enjoy books in translation from the Japanese, I loved books and bookstores and books about them, and I certainly love my cat. But I didn’t find much to love in The Cat Who Saved Books.