A bizarre love triangle, with a cat as the major pawn.
Shozo is onto his second wife, but his heart really belongs to his cat, the beautiful Lily, with her exquisite tortoiseshell coat. First wife Shinako, who has been pushed out of her marriage in favour of the well-heeled Fukuko, is kicking up a stink. She says she is lonely and wants to take Lily to live with her. Seeing that she has been unfairly abandoned, she feels this is the least that Shozo and Fukuko can do. Shinako's secret plan is that once Lily is ensconced with her, Shozo will want to visit the cat, and hence her. The funny part is, Shinako doesn’t really like the cat, and so the plan is in some ways self-sabotaging. Thrown into this mix of emotional jeopardy is Shozo’s mother, O-rin, who has her own self-interested schemes. Weak and vacillating, Shozo finally succumbs to the pressure to give Lily to Shinako, but soon finds he can’t bear to be parted from his dear cat.
Junichiro Tanizaki published this often hilarious novella in 1936. Not only is it psychologically pitch-perfect in its depiction of a three-way power tussle, with a cat as the trophy, but it also presents a fascinating picture of Japanese society. We learn much about the importance of money and status, how marriages are made and broken, and the superficial nature of many customs. Society makes us put on many masks; Tanizaki takes them off to show our true conniving selves. A Cat, A Man and Two Women is almost a Jane Austen like comedy, where the hypocritical and the venal get their comeuppance.
A sly and piercing comedy that never puts a foot wrong. A rare piece of writing where every page is so good it has to be savored.
A Cat, A Man and Two Women, by Junichiro Tanizaki. Daunt Books. $19.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books