Written By: Sosuke Natsukawa
Final Overall Rating: 7/10
First of all, this review is purely derived from my own personal opinion. If you disagree, let me know in the comments; I am always up for a good discussion or to answer questions.
Recommend Yes or No:
This is the first book I read in 2022 and yes, I absolutely recommend it. This is a beautiful piece of literary fiction. Natsukawa weaves a novel on the cusp of reality and fantasy. Cats and books and tea all blend together to create a witty coming-of-age story. I love novels that showcase a world where fantasy should not exist, and yet it does. Because though unicorns may not exist, or talking cats for that matter, I think overcoming the challenges of life are nothing short of extraordinary.
(Spoilers Below – Read at your own peril!)
Writing Style: 6/10
The Cat Who Saved Books is written in third person and narrated in past tense (we are not told who the narrator is, but I secretly hope it is Tiger the Tabby). Natsukawa’s novel focuses on story, dialogue, and literary themes rather than lyrical or florally prose. This stylistic choice presents communication challenges between the author and their audience as it can be more difficult to give readers an immersive experience. However, Natsukawa vaulted over most of the challenges with literary grace.
Had Natsukawa not been strong in his ability to create realistic dialogue this novel would have been strange rather than charming. Natsukawa’s dialogue within the novel is authentic, and I feel as though he captures the voice and individuality of his characters beautifully. This is a particularly difficult achievement when artists are working with a non-human character. Capturing the wily indifference of a feline is an arduous task indeed.
Some of the themes Natsukawa explored in his novel included coming-of-age, overcoming grief, and learning how to love yourself. These themes were excavated and polished through character interactions and self-reflection by our MC.
Though the story was quirky and enchanting I was a little disappointed by the lack of showing in Natsukawa’s writing. I don’t just want to know a character is “cheery” I want the author to describe the skip in their step or how their cheeks glow from constant smiles and laughter (96). Due to being told the story rather than shown the story, I found various sections of the book elementary and less engaging and therefore less vivid and immersive.
After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro Natsuki is willed a secondhand bookshop, and his world is blurred by grief. Afraid of growing up, change and happiness Rintaro imprisons himself in the bookshop, determined to be a hikikomori for life. Rintaro is afraid to live. But he soon realizes, through the help of a talking cat, his first love, and unusual quests to save books, that the world is still beautiful – he just has to be willing to try his best.
Though the novel was charming it was missing scenes that would have made it outstanding. I felt there needed to be a grander ending and I would have loved to have seen a second funeral for Rintaro’s grandfather (one where Rintaro was more present and engaged to symbolize his growth).
Character Development: 8/10
The character development is what stood out to me the most about The Cat Who Saved Books. Afterall, this novel is a literally about Rintaro developing as an individual. Every challenge Rintaro faces and every book he frees resembles overcoming his own personal trauma and journey into selfhood. Natsukawa accomplishes most of his character development through dialogue (which is why it was so important for the dialogue to be impactful).
Fun Facts about Sosuke Natsukawa:
- Natsukawa is a doctor! His experience is what inspired him to write his first book, God’s Medical Records.
- God’s Medical Records won the Shogakukan Fiction Prize and won second prize at Japan Bookseller Awards
- God’s Medical Records has sold over 1.5 million copies and is now a film
Favorite Quote from The Cat Who Saved Books:
- “… Books have tremendous power. But take care. It’s the book that holds the power, not you” (40).
- “There’s so much that I think I understand but actually don’t,” Rintaro said.
“The fact that you’re already aware of that is the first step” (147).
Don’t be afraid to grow, because the world will keep growing with or without you.
Who was Tiger the Tabby really?
Works Cited: Natsukawa, Sosuke. The Cat Who Saved Books. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017