The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley – ingenious Tokyo tales

Through colliding storylines, this debut collection touchingly evokes the interconnectedness of fractured lives

In the sixth story in The Cat and the City, “Chinese Characters”, a teacher of Japanese tells her American student: “Characters shift meaning when placed alongside others, so it’s important we focus on the relationships between them. No character truly exists in isolation, and there’s always a story for even the most complicated or simple of characters.” She is talking about kanji, the characters used in written Japanese, but what she says is equally true of the cast of this unusual novel, who skim across each other’s lives having the narrowest of misses and the most profound impacts as they follow their own trajectories across Tokyo.

The book is ostensibly a collection of stories, linked by the same little calico cat, who curls up with a homeless man in “Fallen Words”, is struck and injured by a jilted lover in “Omatsuri”, looked after by an agoraphobic gamer and a sad little boy in “Hikikomori, Futoku & Neko”, and so on. There are footnotes, photographs, first-person and third-person stories and a short manga section, and each voice is very much its own. But the incursion of characters into each other’s stories, in Nick Bradley’s ingenious choreography of a constantly moving city, is touching, surprising and sometimes heartbreaking. For example, a tiny puzzle in “Fallen Words”, when two taxi drivers hand three empty coffee cans to the homeless storyteller, Ohashi, is quietly resolved later in “Sakura”; it may have barely snagged in the reader’s brain, but Ohashi had just missed bumping into his long-lost brother.

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