A Cat, a Man and two Women by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

A while ago, I stopped watching the news. Also, I sort of stopped reading newspapers (although I always read First News, the brilliant newspaper for kids, which we get for our two, so they have some idea of what’s going on in the world without having to soak up all the shit that adult media can throw at them). Twitter became my way to keep up to date (don’t judge) and I never watch Channel Four reality documentaries anyway.

For some time last year I was at saturation point with the world – there were some things that I didn’t need to know and some of the things that I did need to know about I couldn’t do anything about so preferred just to not listen. I know how that sounds. You’re possibly thinking how narrow minded, how privileged to think that I don’t need to know about the shit that happens to other people. Not so.

I had just reached capacity and I really wanted to care about stuff but I couldn’t care about everything. Instead of constantly feeling helpless and frozen with fear at the thought of my kids growing up in this world, I chose to minimise what I cared about. It helped. I felt more empowered to take action about fewer causes. Don’t ask what, but it was enough to make me feel like I was having a small impact, in a positive way.

This feeling of helplessness, stretched into my reading matter. I was struggling with some of the big stuff that I had taken on in fiction and needed to give myself a chance to breathe and enjoy it all over again. And then, for Christmas, my husband gave me this book. He bought it specially for a trip I was taking with a friend, an overnight stay meant to replenish and restore. He’d gone to the bookshop and told them that he wanted a book for me to read in 24 hours – something small. And they gave him this. I cried. It’s one of the nicest presents he’s ever bought me.

There is no other way of describing this book, other than saying, it is literally about a cat, a man and two women. Written in 1936 by the master of Japanese contemporary fiction, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, it’s short, it’s sparse, it’s delicate, it’s about how much a cat plays a central role in the relationship between her master and his new wife and his ex wife and that’s about it. Honestly. I read it in about 3 hours, but in that time, I was able to refresh my overstretched brain. It was a balm – it soothed me, and calmed in a way no other book has. It was like walking up a mountain and taking all the fresh air into your lungs and seeing a beautiful view.

Since I read the book, I’ve felt more capable of tackling the hard stuff. I’ve picked up more challenging fiction, I started reading the papers again, feeling more able to filter what I needed to know about the shit that’s going on. I haven’t felt so helpless about stuff, but I’ve also been able to steady myself when challenged about how I feel about certain subjects and how I approach things in respect to my world and my thoughts.

How one book can do this, I don’t know. But if any of you are in need of a reboot, just a slight pause in life, to catch your breath and take some space, then please read this book.

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