#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.


#BlogTour #BookReview An Extra Pair of Hands: A Story of Caring, Ageing and Everyday Acts of Love by Kate Mosse @ProfileBooks @midaspr @CheltLitFest

CLF Blog Tour Week 2 BannerToday I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on a special blog tour to celebrate Cheltenham Literature Festival which is taking place between 8th and 17th October in various venues around Cheltenham. There’s something for everyone including talks and interviews with authors from a variety of genres and events for children. There are still tickets available for some events which you can purchase via the Cheltenham Literature Festival website.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of Kate Mosse’s book, An Extra Pair of Hands: A Story of Caring, Ageing and Everyday Acts of Love, courtesy of the Wellcome Collection, Profile Books and Midas PR. Kate is appearing alongside Michael Rosen at Cheltenham Literature Festival tomorrow, 14th October 2021. You can read my review of An Extra Pair of Hands below. You can also read my write-up of Kate’s recent appearance at Henley Literary Festival in which she talked about both A City of Tears, the latest novel in The Burning Chambers series, and An Extra Pair of Hands.

An Extra Pair of HandsAbout the Book

As our population ages, more and more of us find ourselves caring for parents and loved ones – some 8.8 million people in the UK. An invisible army of carers holding families together.

Here, Kate Mosse tells her own personal story of finding herself a carer in middle age: first, helping her heroic mother care for her beloved father through Parkinson’s, then supporting her mother in widowhood, and finally as ‘an extra pair of hands’ for her 90-year-old mother-in-law.

This is a story about the gentle heroism of our carers, about small everyday acts of tenderness, and finding joy in times of crisis. It’s about juggling priorities, mind-numbing repetition, about guilt and powerlessness, about grief, and the solace of nature when we’re exhausted or at a loss. It is also about celebrating older people, about learning to live differently – and think differently about ageing.

But most of all, it’s a story about love.

Format: Hardcover (208 pages)  Publisher: Wellcome Collection/Profile Books
Publication date: 3rd June 2021 Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir

Find An Extra Pair of Hands: A story of Caring, Ageing and Everyday Acts of Love on Goodreads

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My Review

As Kate Mosse points out in the opening chapter of the book, An Extra Pair of Hands is not a ‘how to’ book but a tribute to three ‘extraordinary’ people – her father, her mother and her mother-in-law – and her own reflections on becoming a carer, the ‘extra pair of hands’ of the book’s title.

The are many moments of insight, such as the distinction between ‘caring’ and being a ‘carer’. As she says, the latter is about ‘routine, the endless repetition of things, of always having someone else’s needs at the forefront of your mind. The quotidian tasks that repeat and repeat: conversations, medication, meals, laundry, personal hygiene.’ (Interestingly, Ed Balls during his appearance at Henley Literary Festival last week said something similar about his experience of caring for his mother who has dementia.)

Kate argues that too often the needs of carers are overlooked and she produces evidence to show that the responsibility for caring falls overwhelmingly on women, leading her to conclude, ‘Care is a feminist issue.’ She is honest enough to admit that she is in a more fortunate position than most carers, including having an occupation that she can do from home. I think the book was especially good at communicating the many facets of being a carer – the emotional, physical, social and financial aspects as well as the practical day-to-day responsibilties.

Alongside her experiences of caring for her father, mother and then her mother-in-law, Kate shares lovely memories of her childhood and of her parents’ early lives.  And I was struck by how important nature and the countryside is to her, as a distraction from everyday concerns and a place for contemplation. ‘In the garden, the grass is stiff and white with frost. The sky is shifting from a glittering starred black to blue, the sun now rising in an apricot sky. The softest tint of pink reflecting on the roof of the house next door’. That passage is made all the more poignant because it is the morning of her mother’s funeral. Indeed there are intensely moving sections of the book describing the final days of her father’s life, and later her mother’s too.

Although the book addresses many serious topics, there are joyful moments as well such as when Kate’s mother-in-law, always referred to as Granny Rosie, becomes a media star by entertaining the neighbours gathered for the Thursday night Clap For Carers with a World War II playlist on her electric piano.

An Extra Pair of Hands is both an insight into what caring for someone involves – the joys and the moments of despair – and a call to action to those in a position to improve the lives of carers and the people they care for. As Kate observes, ‘Enjoy the good days, muddle through the bad days, and never take anything for granted.’ Not a bad motto to live by whatever your situation.

In three words: Insightful, moving, thought-provoking

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Kate MosseAbout the Author

Kate Mosse is an international bestselling novelist, playwright and nonfiction author with sales of more than eight million copies in 38 languages. Renowned for bringing unheard and under-heard histories to life, she is a champion of women’s creativity. She is the Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, sits on the Executive Committee of Women of the World and is a Visiting Professor of Contemporary Fiction and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester.  She lives in West Sussex with her husband and mother-in-law. (Photo credit: Twitter profile)

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