Photo: Nick Bradley @nasubijutsu

'The Cat and the City' defines realities of contemporary Tokyo

By Henry Hilton

We've all been there. The confusions and excuses and downright fibs at the end of a disastrous karaoke company party. Yet it takes a real author to add that "the night was still young, but we were too old for Shibuya."

Nick Bradley makes a strong first attempt in his widely praised novel, "The Cat and the City," to define the realities of our contemporary mega-city. It's probably mission impossible but he gives us a sharp, raunchy, sad tale that is more episodic than fully coherent. 

Many young expat readers in their six-mat rooming houses have also dreamt of writing their versions of the impossible city spurred on by its attractions and dilemmas, openness and seeming impenetrability. The competition though to put the place under the microscope and come up with some authentic sense of behavior and thought is mighty strong. When the likes of Angela Carter and David Peace have already given us their fine takes on Tokyo, it is no easy matter to get through the packed literary heats, never mind winning a medal in the final.

"The Cat and The City" has a lot going for it - not least the novelty of 24 pages of very effective manga on the theme of self-isolating hikikomori. The work is linked largely by attention to slinking or sauntering urban cats, the subject of Bradley's doctorate from the well-established University of East Anglia's creative writing center. It's these cats with their hunger, attachments and enviable freedoms that stand in contrast to the drifters, salarymen, cab drivers, translators and language teachers who all form part of the lonely city.

The result is an astute picture of Tokyo as it readies for what it hoped would be the 2020 Olympics but with some less successful bits of dialogue. We can smell the "marijuana, cheap incense and bleach" of the yakuza's Roppongi club and hear the nativist views of customers angry that their convenience stores are now staffed with "foreign idiots." It's a bit hard though to imagine a private eye and his gangster contact grumbling about the "same old same old" and being asked "what brings you to my neck of the woods ?"

Carping aside, Bradley has produced a vivid urban map where "lifers" of all nationalities are trapped in a dark place. Hosts of readers will already be looking forward to what he serves up next in the fiction stakes.

"The Cat and the City" ( Atlantic Books, London, 2020 ) 291 pages

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OK. You got me. I just hopped over to Amazon, "had a look inside," got hooked, and now it's on my list to be bought.

When they get it back in stock, that is. Must've been a lot of people reading JT this morning.

But seriously, thanks.

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