Customer Reviews for

The Cat's Table

Average Rating 4
( 84 )
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

13 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

Intriguing Literature - A Very Good Read

"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje is an intriguing novel. Like fish to bait, I was drawn to Ondaatje's series of innocuous vignettes that fleshed out a plot and bit by bit teased out the characters in bite-sized chunks.

This deeply affecting and multilayered st...
"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje is an intriguing novel. Like fish to bait, I was drawn to Ondaatje's series of innocuous vignettes that fleshed out a plot and bit by bit teased out the characters in bite-sized chunks.

This deeply affecting and multilayered story orbits around three boys cruising from Sri Lanka to England in the early 1950s. The primary character, Michael (although we only find out his name 50 or so pages in), is traveling on his own to meet his Mother. He and two other boys, Cassius and Ramidhan, have the run of the ship as the reader is taken on a tour of their mostly (but not exclusively) insignificant trouble making and mischief. In Michael's own words, "...the fact that I was on my own...was itself an adventure. I had no family responsibilities. I could go anywhere, do anything. Each day we had to do at least one thing that was forbidden."

One cannot help but read the coming-of-age theme built around the 11-year old Michael. The theme might seem cliched, but Ondjaatje's deft mastery of language and his manipulation of plot is what distinguishes this as literature rather than mere fiction.

The trip was an opportunity to observe and orbit around an adult world while still playing the part of a child. He says, "We were learning about adults simply by being in their midst. We felt patterns emerging..." And if to underline the cruise's metaphorical transportation from Michaels' childhood into his adulthood, he finds himself in front of a mirror and narrates, "It was the image of my youth that I would hold on to for years--someone startled, half formed, who had not become anyone or anything yet."

We are introduced to a smattering of other characters throughout the story: Michael's cousin Emily, Ramadhin's sister Massi, and the very enigmatic man in chains - a prisoner who's allowed on deck for only a short while each night. It's the well-paced and dramatic unraveling of the prisoner's story that creates one of the signature "Ah-Ha!" moments in the novel. Much of the last third of the book occurs in Michael's present where Ondaatje focuses on his growth, the transformation of his relationships with those from the ship, and his synthesis of his past and present. And like real life, not all conclusions are neatly packaged.


Throughout the novel, there are hints at where the story is leading. Some of the hints abruptly foreshadow plot lines. Some hints aren't quite recognizable until the initial plot thread becomes knotted with a related thread farther along in the book.

Through most of the interactions on the ship, Ondaatje writes very short chapters creating almost movie-like quick-cuts from scene to scene. I realized that this is how memories work. Usually, one doesn't remember an entire day, but rather moments that have burned into one's memory through the intensity of the experience. I believe that Ondaatje wrote these scenes very purposefully. First, to create very succinct and clear threads that, over time, flesh out Michael's experiences. Second, these flash memories become part of the story itself. They create a pace and expectation on behalf of the reader that propels his experience with the characters.

Michael reflects on the stories of his life, which are in essence, a unification of memories. He narrates, "There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You

posted by JGolomb on September 24, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

Very good ! I would definately recommend this book.

This was a very interesting book. I learned a lot about travel by ship in these olden times. And I enjoyed the way the past and the more recent times are drawn together.

posted by BookLoverCT on November 10, 2011

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  • Posted September 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Intriguing Literature - A Very Good Read

    "The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje is an intriguing novel. Like fish to bait, I was drawn to Ondaatje's series of innocuous vignettes that fleshed out a plot and bit by bit teased out the characters in bite-sized chunks.

    This deeply affecting and multilayered story orbits around three boys cruising from Sri Lanka to England in the early 1950s. The primary character, Michael (although we only find out his name 50 or so pages in), is traveling on his own to meet his Mother. He and two other boys, Cassius and Ramidhan, have the run of the ship as the reader is taken on a tour of their mostly (but not exclusively) insignificant trouble making and mischief. In Michael's own words, "...the fact that I was on my own...was itself an adventure. I had no family responsibilities. I could go anywhere, do anything. Each day we had to do at least one thing that was forbidden."

    One cannot help but read the coming-of-age theme built around the 11-year old Michael. The theme might seem cliched, but Ondjaatje's deft mastery of language and his manipulation of plot is what distinguishes this as literature rather than mere fiction.

    The trip was an opportunity to observe and orbit around an adult world while still playing the part of a child. He says, "We were learning about adults simply by being in their midst. We felt patterns emerging..." And if to underline the cruise's metaphorical transportation from Michaels' childhood into his adulthood, he finds himself in front of a mirror and narrates, "It was the image of my youth that I would hold on to for years--someone startled, half formed, who had not become anyone or anything yet."

    We are introduced to a smattering of other characters throughout the story: Michael's cousin Emily, Ramadhin's sister Massi, and the very enigmatic man in chains - a prisoner who's allowed on deck for only a short while each night. It's the well-paced and dramatic unraveling of the prisoner's story that creates one of the signature "Ah-Ha!" moments in the novel. Much of the last third of the book occurs in Michael's present where Ondaatje focuses on his growth, the transformation of his relationships with those from the ship, and his synthesis of his past and present. And like real life, not all conclusions are neatly packaged.


    Throughout the novel, there are hints at where the story is leading. Some of the hints abruptly foreshadow plot lines. Some hints aren't quite recognizable until the initial plot thread becomes knotted with a related thread farther along in the book.

    Through most of the interactions on the ship, Ondaatje writes very short chapters creating almost movie-like quick-cuts from scene to scene. I realized that this is how memories work. Usually, one doesn't remember an entire day, but rather moments that have burned into one's memory through the intensity of the experience. I believe that Ondaatje wrote these scenes very purposefully. First, to create very succinct and clear threads that, over time, flesh out Michael's experiences. Second, these flash memories become part of the story itself. They create a pace and expectation on behalf of the reader that propels his experience with the characters.

    Michael reflects on the stories of his life, which are in essence, a unification of memories. He narrates, "There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You

    13 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2011

    A beautifully told tale through the eye's of a young boy

    I loved the writing style of this book. Like "The English Patient", there are mysteries that aren't always solved, and a plot that certainly isn't predictable. The characters are amazingly drawn, and I feel like I'll be thinking about this book for years to come. Derfinitely worth reading.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Award winning author Michael Ondaatje provides a strong coming of age thriller that contains a metaphysical undercurrent for those who know the background of the writer

    Eleven year old Michael is leaving his home in Ceylon for the first time to join his divorced mother living in England. Michael is traveling alone though a first class passenger promised his uncles and aunts to keep an eye on him. The lad is taken aback when he sees the multistoried castle he will sail on lying majestically large in Colombo Harbor. His bunk on the Oronsay is under the waves so he has no porthole.

    He is assigned Table 76 for his meals. There are nine people at 76 including two boys (extroverted Cassius who he knows from school and pensive Ramadhin) his age. Another table 76 occupant Miss Laqueri explains they eat at the Cat's Table, which is to keep the dregs the furthest from the exclusive Captain's Table. The lads run amuck getting into one stormy escapade after another while traveling the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea while being fascinated by the mystery of the chained prisoner. Meanwhile Michael is attracted to his older vivacious cousin Emily as she is kind to him, places deaf Asuntha under her protective wing and gallivants with a performer.

    Award winning author Michael Ondaatje provides a strong coming of age thriller that contains a metaphysical undercurrent for those who know the background of the writer. Michael's journey is filled with youthful adventures but also metaphorically symbolizes the journey of life as the adult is the child without the innocence. The Cat's Table is an excellent character driven drama, which, unlike Paradise Lost can become Paradise Regained, though innocence lost is gone forever.

    Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2011

    Very good ! I would definately recommend this book.

    This was a very interesting book. I learned a lot about travel by ship in these olden times. And I enjoyed the way the past and the more recent times are drawn together.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 10, 2013

    Surprising...

    Not a fan of Ondaatje in general. But I found this book to be compulsively readable and very original. Great cast of eclectic and likeable characters. Interesting twists and a highly satisfying ending. Will recommend to friends.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2013

    A finely crafted tale of an 11-year old boy's 21 day ship crossing from Ceylon to England.

    This book tells of the people at the "Cat's Table"---those of the least interest and importance to the ship's Captain and therefore farthest away from the Captain's table---and their exploits for the 21 day cruise. Each chapter is a little vignette on its own. Some of it is what occurs on the ship, and then the story reverts to the characters when they are older. The story jumps back and forth thru time and even becomes a little con-fusing to the reader. As you might predict, however, all the parts come to the fore toward the end of the book, and then the reader can put all this and that together and realize how finely crafted the book is written.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2013

    Good Short Fiction

    I enjoyed the character development. In the first few chapters I wondered where the story was headed, but after 60 or so pages the story took on strong story lines being unveiled in every new chapter. There are few un answered sub plots, but I surmise the author writes that way on purpose. Up to the reader to carry on.
    Interesting information about a 21 day boat trip in another century and filled with images of a different time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2013

    Very enjoyable read

    This was a great story. I felt like I was there on the ship with the characters. Great "curl-up" book for a rainy day read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2012

    Dawn to geckostar

    Geckostar! I....w.w.was... in.....y.y.your... clan....u..ntil.. i..i.
    I..f.f.found...m.m.m.y...p...o.wer.. the dragon stammered. I could turn into a dragon th.th..th.en i never came back. Anyway here is my gift. I will give you the ancient pendant of dreams. It will help you build a clan so great you never thought it was possible. She gives you a flikering orb on a chain of dimonds and obsidian and glides silently away.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

    Not compelling

    My husband enjoyed the book and recommended it. But I thought it lacked energy and plot. I forced myself to get through it but didn't like fhe abrupt ending. I say don.t bother.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Good story.

    The world of a voyage from Ceylon (in the 1950's not yet Sri Lanka) to London as seen through the eyes of an 11 year old traveling to meet his estranged mother. His adventures and insights with his fellow pre-teens and the others who populate the ship can be quite amusing and profound for his adolescent sensibilities. Though not a fan of overly descriptive narrative, I felt that at times, the writing was a bit too sparse. I did appreciate Ondaatje's ability to capture the mind of an 11 year old.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2015

    Three young boys bond on a on a three week sea journey that is t

    Three young boys bond on a on a three week sea journey that is taking them to new lives in England.

    What can happen in these confined quarters over a short period of time? Not much, actually, but Michael Ondaatje would have you believe that the hijinks and drama that takes place would shape and influence the rest of their lives.

    However, The Cat’s Table doesn’t deliver on any of this. The boys’ lives diverge and the reader never understands the significance of any of the rather ordinary events that took place, and is left wondering if they are anything other than the hyper imaginings of an eleven-year old boy.

    As an adult, the narrator reconnects with a distant relative, who was one of the adult passengers aboard the voyage, and asks her about a particular incident. Her response is indicative of the entire book, vague and unsatisfying.

    This book reads like the childhood imaginings of an aging author whose fame and previous literary masterpieces have afforded him a self-indulgent quasi-memoir at the expense of the reader.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2014

    Yamahan

    Waits

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  • Posted March 15, 2014

    I was intrigued by the title of this book plus I quite enjoyed a

    I was intrigued by the title of this book plus I quite enjoyed another one of Ondaatje's books (Running in the Family) so I recently choose The Cat's Table to read. Early on, the author explains that the "cat's table" on a ship is the table furthest from the captain's table or in other words the table of the least privileged on the ship. Later the main character observes that often in life we learn the most from those seated at whatever cat's tables we may be seated.

    The story is of three unsophisticated, adolescent Sri Lankan boys who are put on a boat, the Oronsay, bound for England. To the boys, the Oronsay seemed to exude "the grandeur of a castle." They have experienced very little of the adult world before this trip and are left to fend for themselves with the exception of an occasional meeting of an "auntie" or cousin. The three soon bond and vow to do one forbidden activity a day which includes spying on various adult conversations. By the end of the trip they have traveled from one culture to another and have journeyed further down the path of becoming adults.

    I was glad the author jumped ahead to the current lives of the three boys about halfway through the book. Ondaatje let the reader begin to discover the fate of the three before revisiting the remainder of the boat journey 20 years earlier.

    The genre is not mystery but the unusual circumstances of a shackled, escorted prisoner onboard leads the boys to try their hand at detective work and the reader is left in suspense for much of the novel.

    This book leaves me eager to read more of Ondaatje's works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2013

    Not great

    I thought it was rather rambling and not very interesting. Wouldnt recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2013

    A Childhood Odyessy

    Captures the crucible of childhood's creation of the adult.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    StaticWind

    "Haave i missed something?"

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    Silverstar

    Tommrow at full moon first result between eight trity and nine eastern time

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2013

    Lichentail

    Hello.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    Slave

    At result seven.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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