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book review:

The Cat in the Coffin

Who knew that a stray cat wandering into someone’s garden could open up a reclusive middle-aged woman to share her tragic secret and burden? When Masayo Haryu, an award winning artist, urges her housekeeper to feed and wash the cat and sees its pure white fur, she is driven to share her story about how she ruined her sense of self and became “like a novelist who turns to writing cheap, tawdry novels because she’s lost the ability to chronicle the landscapes of the heart.”

At the age of 20, Masayo is offered the opportunity of a lifetime when the well-known artist Goro Kawakubo invites her to stay at his house and take lessons from him in exchange for tutoring his eight-year-old daughter Momoko, whose mother recently passed away. Momoko is a withdrawn individual with the desire to only ever spend time with her cat Lala. Masayo is captivated by the young girl and her father and strives to win a place in the young girl’s heart, which she does by connecting with her through Lala. When Momoko’s father brings home the beautiful Chinatsu, Masayo’s jealousy becomes more than she can bear. Chinatsu strives to impress Momoko, but together Momoko, Lala and Masayo carefully exclude her. When something happens to Lala, and she is found dead in the lake, Momoko is devastated.

Throughout this novel, Koike explores the tales children weave to create a sense of comfort and security and the devastation that can occur when those stories become threatened or damaged. Driven, for selfish reasons, to reveal the truth to Momoko about Lala’s death, Masayo is unable to contemplate the devastation that will be wrought and the lives that will be ruined through her revelation. Exploring Masayo’s newly developed feelings of romantic love tied in with jealousy and a sense of being exiled from Momoko’s world, which she strove so hard to be invited into, Koike exposes the inner demon that we all possess and determines that it’s whether we act on it or not that defines us. Masayo understands this all too late, when she is holding a random stray cat to her face, wondering if it’s the long-dead Lala. (Sara Ritchie)

by Marika Koike (translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm), $17.50, 190 pgs, Vertical Inc., 1185 Avenue of the Americas, 32nd Floor, New York, NY, 10036, USA

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