#BookReview The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery and Maria Guitart @BelgraviaB

The Writer's CatAbout the Book

From the best-selling author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog comes this delightful, delicate tale that pays tribute to the poetry of the everyday, to Japanese philosophy, and to the ingenuity and sardonic humor of cats.

What a mysterious, confounding thing is a writer! Yet, spend a little time with the writer’s cats and one might just understand her better.

Muriel Barbery, via her feline friends and co-conspirators, takes readers into her atelier, offering them a behind-the-scenes peek into her process and problems, joys and disappointments. The tale is told from the perspective of one of the writer’s four cats, Kirin, who, together with her cohort, may or may not be a reliable narrator. There’s Ocha, the leader of the gang, a tough guy with a soft heart; the bandy-legged and affectionate Mizu, Ocha’s sister; the phlegmatic and refined Petrus, lover of flowers; and finally, pretty Kirin, narrator of this bewitching story.

Format: Hardcover (80 pages) Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 19th October 2021 Genre: Nonfiction, Humour

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My Review

What’s this, Cathy reading a book about cats (and an illustrated one at that) when she’s not even that much of a cat lover? Well, I’m so glad I did because this is a charming book by Muriel Barbery (whose book A Single Rose I read and reviewed recently) with wonderful illustrations by Maria Guitart.

I loved the clever touches such as the fact the illustrations stick predominantly to the same colour palette as Chartreux cats – grey and orange – and that the writer is seen only from the back until the very end of the book. Just as it should be, Kirin, Ocha, Mizu and Petrus would say, as after all we’re the stars of the book.

There’s lots of self-deprecating humour about the trials and tribulations of being a writer which, as her cats observe, manifests itself in three ways: restlessness, doubt and denial. I loved the way the cats discuss the writer’s latest output, assessing it for language and style as well as ‘consistency, relevance and the narrative progression of the text’. When it comes to denial – the tendency of writers to try to convince themselves that what they’ve written is good when in their heart they know it’s full of holes – the cats are only too happy to help. After all who needs an editor when you have Mizu farting noisily on the offending lines?

The Writer’s Cats is charming, funny and beautiful to look at. It would make a wonderful gift for the cat lover in your life… and at the same time contribute to the share of the royalties demanded by Muriel’s cats.

My thanks to Gallic Books for my advance review copy.

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Muriel BarberyAbout the Author

Muriel Barbery is a former lecturer in philosophy and the bestselling author of IMPAC-shortlisted The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Published in France in 2006 and in the UK in 2008, it has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies worldwide and has been described by Le Figaro as ‘the publishing phenomenon of the decade’. She has lived in Kyoto, Amsterdam and Paris, and now lives in the French countryside with her husband and four Chartreux cats.

About the Illustrator

Maria Guitart was born in Barcelona. She holds a degree in Art History from the University of Barcelona and a certificate of Higher Technical Education in illustration from the Massana School of Art and Design. Currently, she combines her job as an illustrator with work as an editor of international fiction.

#BookReview Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army by Edoardo Albert

Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen ArmyAbout the Book

Conrad is a monk, but he has become a monk through trickery and against his will. So, it is fair to say that his heart isn’t really in it. Conrad is also clever, charming, entirely self-serving, self-absorbed and almost completely without scruple – but in Anglo-Saxon England, when the Danish invaders come calling, those are very helpful attributes to have.

And so it comes to pass that Conrad finds himself constantly dodging death by various means, some reasonable, some… less so. His tricks include selling his brother monks into slavery, witnessing the death of a king, juggling his loyalties between his own people and the Danes, robbing corpses and impersonating a bishop.

By his side throughout is the gentle and honourable Brother Odo, a man so naturally and completely good that even animals sense it. He is no match of wits for the cunning Conrad but can he, perhaps, at least encourage the wayward monk to behave a little better?

Format: ebook (219 pages) Publisher: Lume Books
Publication date: 31 July 2018 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

I’m embarrassed to say it’s three years since Abby at Endeavour (now Lume Books) sent me a review copy of this book but it’s only now that it has been plucked from my TBR pile. I was looking for something more light-hearted to read as a change from my recent diet of rather intense books and Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army certainly fitted the bill.

Conrad is a true picaresque hero with a shameless awareness that at heart he is a rogue and a chancer. In fact, he rather revels in it freely admitting at one point that where others see the ‘open and honest face of a man of worth and truth’ in actual fact they’re looking at the ‘shifting mien of the vain dissimulator and crafty poltroon’. He is prepared to lie, cheat or bluff to extricate himself from any situation and the book sees him make repeated (and I do mean repeated) escapes from seemingly impossible situations. At times, for me, Conrad’s actions pushed the boundary between appealing rogue and objectionable cad – and I could have done with a little less information about the state of his bowels!

His companion on his adventures, poor Brother Odo, finds himself taking the role of anything from beast of burden, to oarsman, to unwitting accomplice, his spirits maintained by Conrad’s constant reassurance that ‘It’s all part of the plan’. Plus his unwavering belief that, as a fellow monk, Conrad is a man of faith. Big mistake, Odo.

I have a feeling the author had great fun writing this book and there are some comical moments. Confronted by a marauding Dane, Conrad attempts to pass himself off as a fellow countryman thanks to his knowledge of the language. “Hey, Erik,” I yelled to him – if you don’t know the name of a Dane, just call him Erik, they all answer to it.”¬†Later Conrad learns his real name is – you guessed it – Erik.

Amid the humour there’s some authentic detail about Anglo-Saxon England and many of the characters who feature in the book existed in real life, as the author explains in his historical note. Personally, I wouldn’t trust Conrad for a moment or believe a word he said but it was fun spending a few hours in his company.

In three words: Lively, humorous, entertaining

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Edoardo AlbertAbout the Author

Edoardo Albert is a British writer of Italian and Sri Lankan descent. He writes about Britain in the early medieval period (between the Romans leaving and the Normans arriving), the 40th millennium in the Warhammer universe, and lots of other things besides. He enjoys hearing from his readers via social media or directly through this website. (Photo/bio credit: Author website)

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