Published by Picador
Publication date – 16 September 2021
Source – review copy
Grandpa used to say it all the time: books have tremendous power. But what is that power really?
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 who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone . . .
Rintaro is alone. His grandfather has recently died, leaving Rintaro with only his aunt as family. His grandfather has also left Rintaro his second hand bookshop, Natsuki Books. One day, as Rintaro hides from the world in the shelves, a talking cat appears. Rintaro follows him on three adventures to save books from being mistreated and misused. Perhaps Rintaro himself will be saved in the process.
I love books about books. There is something infinitely appealing about reading about readers, books, bookshops or libraries. The love of books shines through, the magic and mystery and comfort they can bring plain to see in those who write them and about them. I was therefore keen to read The Cat Who Saved Books.
There is a magical feel to the story, like a grown up fairy tale. Rintaro enters into a surreal world where books have become metaphors for life. There’s the collector, the man who wants to keep every copy of every book, to read every one as if to do so is a status symbol. There is another man, who is trying to distil books down to as short a text as possible, saving the time that he believes few have to sit and read. Rintaro questions those views of books, of why people feel they are a status symbol, a prize to be objectified or to be ridiculed and reduced to less than the sum of their parts.
Rintaro is a lonely young man, more at home inside the pages of a novel and therefore unaware of the world around him. It is however through them, and the talking cat, that he begins to see that there is more for him that the written word, that he has friends who care about it. Each adventure sees Rintaro look at his relationship with books in a new light. The books that he frees are also his key to living in the real world.
There is a surreal feel to the book, one where the reader feels at once part of the narrative but also removed. This may partly be from the translation, which I usually find adds a lovey sheen to a book. It is also in part due to the nature of the book, parallel worlds where a talking cat can take you to free misused books is bound to feel otherworldly.
A quiet, gentle yet entertaining ode to books and the power of reading.