Opening with a letter from ex-wife, Shinoko, to current wife, Fukuko, A Cat, A Man, and Two Women builds intrigue from the off. The intent of this letter is that Shinoko hopes to pass on insight regarding her ex-husband, Shozo, to his new wife Fukuko. In particular, Shinoko wants to draw Fukuko’s attention to the devotion Shozo shows to Lily, the household cat. The relationship between man and feline caused a rift in Shinoko’s marriage and she hopes to notify Fukuko of this. Shinoko suggests that it would be best for them if she herself were to keep the cat, whom she claims to miss since she separated from Shozo. Her motives are doubtful and it is not lost on the reader that this could be an act meant to spite her former spouse.
Upon having her eyes opened to the strange bond between the two, Fukuko becomes bitter and jealous, demanding Shozo give away the cat. However, the somewhat childish Shozo is reluctant to do so. Eventually, coaxed by his mother and as a means to cease Fukuko’s incessant badgering, he concedes. However, his attachment to the cat runs deeper than he is willing to admit.
Tanizaki has a distinctive emphasis on description: he beautifully conveys, in highly detailed accounts, his mind’s eye. A particular highlight is his description of Lily’s interactions with Shozo, bringing the animal, its nature and movements to life. The focus of the novel is the oddity of the relationship between man and cat. Tanizaki doesn’t try and justify this; it’s clear that he intends the reader to question Shozo’s motivations and the intent of this bond, even deploying comedy to emphasise the unusual nature of the tale.
The narrative of the novel isn’t profound or significant, something it takes in its stride. Although, it does study human emotions in surprising depth for such a light-hearted novel, expressing loneliness, jealousy, love and greed. Tanizaki certainly demonstrates an impressive writing talent with great character development, no small feat given the text’s short length. Some readers may be deterred by the fact that the focal point appears to be a cat; however, Lily acts primarily as the stimulus for plot progression and it is the human characters and their actions regarding Lily that Tanizaki focuses on. Overall, A Cat, A Man, and Two Women is a great short pick for any reader, especially one with a penchant for absurdist fiction.
The English translation of A Cat, A Man, and Two Women is published in the UK by the small press Daunt Books. Daunt Books Publishing was established in 2010 and has since published over seventy books. It is a division of the Daunt Books bookshop chain that operates in London.
Compare Fukuko and Shinoko. How do they resemble and contrast one another?
Why do you think Shozu has such an attachment to Lily? Do you think he has any emotional attachment to his wives? If so, does he show this?
Why do you think Tanizaki chose to end the novel with Shozo running away? What questions does this pose?
What impact does Shozo’s mother have on his life? Why do you think her approval is key in his marriages?
What do all three human participants of the love triangle hope for in marriage?
Do you think Lily expresses any particular attachment to any of the characters? A-Cat-A-Man-and-Two-Women-Discussion-Questions.pdf
After being given Lily, Shinoko first struggles to gain acceptance from the cat, who refuses food and won’t move from a spot near the window. Despite her initial stubbornness, Lily eventually warms to Shinoko and after a short period of escaping she returns to her. Meanwhile, Shinoko starts struggling to provide the amenities Lily requires, sacrificing her own meals to fund food for Lily searching the local area at night for sand to fill the litter box.
Shozo continually worries about Lily’s wellbeing and takes the opportunity of his wife’s absence to travel and visit Shinoko’s house. He borrows a bicycle and lantern from a nearby shopkeeper and, despite his efforts, is unable to see Lily. Fukuko is notified of his trip the next day when the shopkeeper returns for his belongings. She is furious at Shozo and decides to leave and return to her family home. Shozo is intent on trying to visit Lily again and so returns to Shinoko’s home. He waits for Shinoko to exit the house and then when she is no longer nearby, he opens the door and calls out to her sister, Hatsuko. He consults Hatsuko on his intention to see Lily. He doesn’t want his appearance known to Shinoko, so visiting normally is out of the question. After imploring Hatsuko to let him see the cat she invites him in but insists that he must be quick as Shinoko will return shortly.
Although reluctant to greet Shozo at first, Lily warms to him. Shozo is surprised to see that Lily is so well cared for, he notices that what is provided for Lily is far better than that belonging to Shinoko. He struggles to understand why Shinoko is taking such good care of an animal she detested so much during their marriage. Despite Lily being well looked after, Shozo can’t help but notice that she appears to have aged significantly since he last saw her. His visit is cut short when Hatsuko announces that she can see Shinoko returning. Shozo rushes to exit the house and manages to narrowly avoid Shinoko. He runs in the opposite direction.
Junichiro Tanizaki was awarded the Asahi Prize in 1948. The award is one of great authority in Japan, being awarded to those ‘individuals and groups that have made outstanding accomplishments in the fields of academics and arts, and have greatly contributed to the development and progress of Japanese culture and society at large.’
In 1965, the year of Tanizaki’s death, a literary award was named in his honour. The Tanizaki Prize is awarded annually and has since become one of the most respected awards in Japanese literature.
In 1964, Tanizaki was one of the candidates nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, losing out to Jean-Paul Sartre.