The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table

by Michael Ondaatje


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307744418
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/12/2012
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 165,364
Product dimensions: 5.32(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

Michael Ondaatje is the author of five previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. The English Patient won the Booker Prize; Anil’s Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

THE CAT’S TABLE by Michael Ondaatje
He wasn’t talking. He was looking from the window of the car all the way. Two adults in the front seat spoke quietly under their breath. He could have listened if he wanted to, but he didn’t. For a while, at the section of the road where the river sometimes flooded, he could hear the spray of water at the wheels. They entered the Fort and the car slipped silently past the post office building and the clock tower. At this hour of the night there was barely any traffic in Colombo. They drove out along Reclamation Road, passed St. Anthony’s Church, and after that he saw the last of the food stalls, each lit with a single bulb. Then they entered a vast open space that was the harbour, with only a string of lights in the distance along the pier. He got out and stood by the warmth of the car.

He could hear the stray dogs that lived on the quays barking out of the darkness. Nearly everything around him was invisible, save for what could be seen under the spray of a few sulphur lanterns—watersiders pulling a procession of baggage wagons, some families huddled together. They were all beginning to walk towards the ship.

He was eleven years old that night when, green as he could be about the world, he climbed aboard the first and only ship of his life. It felt as if a city had been added to the coast, better lit than any town or village. He went up the gangplank, watching only the path of his feet—nothing ahead of him existed—and continued till he faced the dark harbour and sea. There were outlines of other ships farther out, beginning to turn on lights. He stood alone, smelling everything, then came back through the noise and the crowd to the side that faced land. A yellow glow over the city. Already it felt there was a wall between him and what took place there. Stewards began handing out food and cor- dials. He ate several sandwiches, and after that he made his way down to his cabin, undressed, and slipped into the narrow bunk. He’d never slept under a blanket before, save once in Nuwara Eliya. He was wide awake. The cabin was below the level of the waves, so there was no porthole. He found a switch beside the bed and when he pressed it his head and pillow were suddenly lit by a cone of light.

He did not go back up on deck for a last look, or to wave at his relatives who had brought him to the harbour. He could hear singing and imagined the slow and then eager parting of families taking place in the thrilling night air. I do not know, even now, why he chose this solitude. Had whoever brought him onto the Oronsay already left? In films people tear themselves away from one another weeping, and the ship separates from land while the departed hold on to those disappearing faces until all distinction is lost.
I try to imagine who the boy on the ship was. Perhaps a sense of self is not even there in his nervous stillness in the narrow bunk, in this green grasshopper or little cricket, as if he has been smuggled away accidentally, with no knowledge of the act, into the future.
He woke up, hearing passengers running along the corridor. So he got back into his clothes and left the cabin. Something was happening. Drunken yells filled the night, shouted down by officials. In the middle of B Deck, sailors were attempting to grab hold of the harbour pilot. Having guided the ship meticulously out of the harbour (there were many routes to be avoided because of submerged wrecks and an earlier breakwater), he had gone on to have too many drinks to celebrate his achievement. Now, apparently, he simply did not wish to leave. Not just yet. Perhaps another hour or two with the ship. But the Oronsay was eager to depart on the stroke of midnight and the pilot’s tug waited at the waterline. The crew had been struggling to force him down the rope ladder, however as there was a danger of his falling to his death, they were now capturing him fishlike in a net, and in this way they lowered him down safely. It seemed to be in no way an embarrassment to the man, but the episode clearly was to the officials of the Orient Line who were on the bridge, furious in their white uniforms. The passengers cheered as the tug broke away. Then there was the sound of the two-stroke and the pilot’s weary singing as the tug disappeared into the night.
What had there been before such a ship in my life? A dugout canoe on a river journey? A launch in Trincomalee harbour? There were always fishing boats on our horizon. But I could never have imagined the grandeur of this castle that was to cross the sea. The longest journeys I had made were car rides to Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains, or the train to Jaffna, which we boarded at seven a.m. and disembarked from in the late afternoon. We made that journey with our egg sandwiches, some thalagulies, a pack of cards, and a small Boy’s Own adventure.

But now it had been arranged I would be travelling to England by ship, and that I would be making the journey alone. No mention was made that this might be an unusual experience or that it could be exciting or dangerous, so I did not approach it with any joy or fear. I was not forewarned that the ship would have seven levels, hold more than six hundred people including a captain, nine cooks, engineers, a veterinarian, and that it would contain a small jail and chlorinated pools that would actually sail with us over two oceans. The departure date was marked casually on the calendar by my aunt, who had notified the school that I would be leaving at the end of the term. The fact of my being at sea for twenty-one days was spoken of as having not much significance, so I was surprised my relatives were even bothering to accompany me to the harbour. I had assumed I would be taking a bus by myself and then change onto another at Borella Junction.

There had been just one attempt to introduce me to the situation of the journey. A lady named Flavia Prins, whose husband knew my uncle, turned out to be making the same journey and was invited to tea one afternoon to meet with me. She would be travelling in First Class but promised to keep an eye on me. I shook her hand carefully, as it was covered with rings and bangles, and she then turned away to continue the conversation I had interrupted. I spent most of the hour listening to a few uncles and counting how many of the trimmed sandwiches they ate.

On my last day, I found an empty school examination booklet, a pencil, a pencil sharpener, a traced map of the world, and put them into my small suitcase. I went outside and said good-bye to the generator, and dug up the pieces of the radio I had once taken apart and, being unable to put them back together, had buried under the lawn. I said good-bye to Narayan, and good-bye to Gunepala.

As I got into the car, it was explained to me that after I’d crossed the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, and gone through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, I would arrive one morning on a small pier in England and my mother would meet me there. It was not the magic or the scale of the journey that was of concern to me, but that detail of how my mother could know when exactly I would arrive in that other country.

And if she would be there.
I heard a note being slipped under my door. It assigned me to Table 76 for all my meals. The other bunk had not been slept in. I dressed and went out. I was not used to stairs and climbed them warily.

In the dining room there were nine people at Table 76, and that included two other boys roughly my age.

“We seem to be at the cat’s table,” the woman called Miss Lasqueti said. “We’re in the least privileged place.”

It was clear we were located far from the Captain’s Table, which was at the opposite end of the dining room. One of the two boys at our table was named Ramadhin, and the other was called Cassius. The first was quiet, the other looked scornful, and we ignored one another, although I recognized Cassius. I had gone to the same school, where, even though he was a year older than I was, I knew much about him. He had been notorious and was even expelled for a term. I was sure it was going to take a long time before we spoke. But what was good about our table was that there seemed to be several interesting adults. We had a botanist, and a tailor who owned a shop up in Kandy. Most exciting of all, we had a pianist who cheerfully claimed to have “hit the skids.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Cat’s Table, the luminous new novel by Michael Ondaatje, Booker Prize–winning author of The English Patient.

1. The epigraph is taken from the short story “Youth” by Joseph Conrad: “And this is how I see the East.... I see it always from a small boat—not a light, not a stir, not a sound. We conversed in low whispers, as if afraid to wake up the land.... It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea.” How does this set up the major themes of The Cat’s Table?

2. How is the voyage itself a metaphor for childhood?

3. Why do you think the opening passages of the book are told in third person?

4. We are 133 pages into the novel before Ondaatje gives us an idea of what year it is. How does he use time—or the sense of timelessness—to propel the story?

5. The anonymity of ocean travel and the sense that board ship we know only what others want us to know about them come into play at several points in the novel. What is Ondaatje saying about identity?

6. For several characters—the three boys and Emily among them—the journey represents a loss of innocence. For whom does it have the greatest impact?

7. Discuss the importance of some of the seemingly minor characters at the table: Mr. Mazappa, Mr. Fonseka, Mr. Nevil. What do they contribute to the story?

8. “What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power,” the narrator realizes (page 75). “Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves.” How does this prove true over the course of the novel?

9. How do the narrator’s experiences breaking and entering with the Baron change his way of looking at the world?

10. Discuss the three boys’ experience during the typhoon. How does it affect their friendship and their attitude toward authority figures?

11. How does the death of Sir Hector factor into the larger story?

12. On page 155, the narrator refers to Ramadhin as “the saint of our clandestine family.” What does he mean?

13. When describing the collapse of his marriage, the narrator says, “Massi said that sometimes, when things overwhelmed me, there was a trick or a habit I had: I turned myself into something that did not belong anywhere. I trusted nothing I was told, not even what I witnessed” (page 203). What made him behave this way? How did it affect his marriage?

14. On page 208, the narrator tells us about a master class given by the filmmaker Luc Dardenne in which “he spoke of how viewers of his films should not assume they understood everything about the characters. As members of an audience we should never feel ourselves wiser than they; we do not have more knowledge than the characters have about themselves.” Why did Ondaatje give us this warning, so far into the novel? What is he telling us?

15. What was your reaction to the revelations about Miss Lasqueti?

16. How do you think her letter to Emily might have changed the events on board the Oronsay? Why didn’t she send it?

17. Miss Laqueti signs off her letter,  “‘Despair young and never look back,’ an Irishman said. And this is what I did” (page 231). What does she mean?

18. Discuss Emily’s relationship with Asuntha. Did she, as the narrator suggests on page 251, see herself in the deaf girl?

19. When Emily says to the narrator, “I don’t think you can love me into safety,” (page 250), to what is she referring? What is the danger, decades after the voyage?

20. The narrator wishes to protect Emily, Cassius has Asuntha, and Ramadhin has Heather Cave. “What happened that the three of us had a desire to protect others seemingly less secure than ourselves?” he asks on page 262. How would you answer that question?

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The Cat's Table 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 94 reviews.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
"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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
LostinTime More than 1 year ago
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.
mountainmama More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
gutdoc More than 1 year ago
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.
meredk on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I enjoyed this book, both for the writing and the fascinating characters. It's not perfect - I'm not sure how well the meditations on the main character's life as an adult work, for example. But the scenes on the ship are strange and beautiful, almost like magical realism at times.
WintersRose on LibraryThing 6 months ago
What a beautiful book. Every character is interesting and there are mysteries. The scene when Michael and his friend have themselves tied to the deck of the ship to ride out a typhoon will take your breath away, as it did theirs.
kimreadthis on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I wanted to enjoy this well-written novel more than I did. The premise was very interesting to me, seeing a voyage from the perspective of three boys who are growing up and later mark the trip as a turning point in their lives. I understand stylistically why the author would add a lot of mystery and intrigue, but I felt all of the mysteries detracted from the more interesting story of the boys and their relationships with each other. Including all of these storylines never allowed one of them to fully engage me or to be fully developed. The book was not long, but it look me much longer than usual to get through it as it seemed to drag (even with relatively short chapters).
Laura400 on LibraryThing 6 months ago
A beautiful and captivating book.The setting is evocatively described, almost painted for the reader. The characters are delicately drawn, complex and memorable, and Ondaatje allows them their continuing mysteries. The plot moves like a sea journey, at first orienting itself with a thorough look around, and then steaming along speedily until the end arrives far too quickly. Ondaatje is at the top of his form here, and the book was an absolute pleasure. Wonderful.
St.CroixSue on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Mesmerizing 'coming of age' fiction written by Ondaatje, the author of 'The English Patient.' The narrator recounts a privotal journey as an 11 year old, and shifts into the present as an adult in an attempt to come to terms with the events on the ship. SRH
actonbell on LibraryThing 6 months ago
The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje, is a captivating coming of age story about three boys who make the long journey from Columbo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to England on The Oronsay, back in 1954. The protagonist is eleven year old Michael, who befriends two other boys his age, Ramadhin and Cassius. They are each traveling without parents, and so at mealtimes, they are seated with a random group of adults who seem like a ragtag group of less fortunate people. It is one of these, an eccentric woman traveling with pigeons, who coins the name of their table and declares it the least privileged spot, being as far away from the captain's table as possible.During these twenty-one days, these boys get into various kinds of trouble, witness unusual and frightening events, and begin to look outward in more observant, mature ways than they ever have before. Specifically, these boys are awakened to how much lies beneath the surface of seemingly boring, ordinary adults. The denizens of the cat's table, for instance, are most intriguing. These characters are well presented, with a beautifully crafted amount of development twined with enough mystery to challenge the reader's imagination, leaving much to ponder.As Michael, Ramadhin, and Cassius take the long cruise through the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean, new worlds open up for them, in both positive and negative ways; towards the end of the trip, there is a very disturbing event which remains mysterious. This story is not told linearly. Instead, Michael moves back and forth between his momentous journey and his present life. Very little is said about his early life in Sri Lanka, or about his very first days in England with a mother he hadn't seen for about three years. I got the feeling that his story became somewhat anti-climatic after this magical time he spent on The Oronsay, that he never experienced anything so intense ever again, and that the rest of his life was all about interpreting what had happened during those days at sea. As an adult, Michael does receive more enlightenment about what he'd witnessed during his eleventh year, when his mind was growing to include the a larger world, while still clinging to a vestige of magical thought. Of course, these things are not completely illuminated, but then, they never are. Ondaatje chose the right place to let Michael go on without the reader. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Though Michael Ondaatje states that this work is a novel, not based on fact, there are aspects that must be autobiographical, namely the fact that Ondaatje moved from Columbo to England in 1954, when he would have been eleven years old. And he did make such a voyage alone, but states that he barely remembers it, and that the adventures in this story are completely fabricated. Also, like his novel's character, he became a writer. Anyway, both thumbs up! I enjoyed this one immensely.
ccayne on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Loved it. IThe strongest part of the book was on the ship. The case of characters was wonderful as was the writing. It was very atmospheric, I felt like I was there. Many memorable scenes, being lashed to the deck in a typhoon, the prisoner at night, the skater of the early mornings, the rich man and his death by dog, the garden below decks, the mural or naked women. The writing is full of imagery.
bookmagic on LibraryThing 6 months ago
This is a very charming read, poignant and sweet at times. From the point of view of an 11 year old boy, Michael, the reader is taken on a 21 day journey aboard a ship from Columbo to England in the 1950's, where he is to meet with his mother, whom he has not seen in several years. Michael makes friends with two boys his age, also sitting at the 'Cat's Table', the table furthest from the Captain's table, where the least important passengers dine. The boys explore the ship, cause trouble and meet many interesting characters. The chapters are short, each character or event is introduced in one of these chapters then referred to later.Occasionally the author will refer to future events as they relate to this 21 day voyage.Ondaajte is an amazing writer and I did not want this book to end. He captured the setting well and kept me interested without any fancy plot devices. This is the first of his work that I have read and I am interested in reading rating 5/5
carolinelafleur on LibraryThing 6 months ago
M O writes inside the mind and heart with compassion and poetic fluidity. I always enjoy an author who can paint pictures on the wall of my cranium. M O does this. Confined setting. Short timeline. This brings to mind The English Patient: slow and heavy. Although The Cat's Table is at times funny, after all it is told from the p-o-v of an eleven year old boy crossing, aboard an ocean liner, from Sri Lanka to England: Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, Red Sean, Suez Canal into the Mediterranean... It is the story of this 21 day crossing, the passengers and the occupants of the cat's table. When the ship lands, few relationships continue: Ramadhin, Emily. It is the story of different worlds colliding, relationships drifting back and forth (p 170) - imaginary world of the Oronsay (p. 13) free of the reality of the earth (p. 24) e.g. p. 84 with the baron "a little escape into being somebody else), a fairy tale (p. 106) "our castle slipping away slowly ... As the voyage progresses, this imaginary world slowly starts to fade into reality (p 110 + 111.- the Suez Canal is described a the "most vivid memory of the journey". Was is because of the close proximity to land?- Michael's nickname is Mynah- why doesn't Michael leave an address for Cassius at his art showing- explain Miss Lasqueti- poetic (p 257)- explain the ending...Rating:Writing: 1 starPlot/Story: 1/2 starKept me reading: 0 starCharacter development: 1 starVisuals: 1 star
EpicTale on LibraryThing 6 months ago
"The Cat's Table" is a wonderfully engaging book, and Ondaatje is a masterful story teller and prose stylist. The author creates a credible world aboard the passenger ship Oronsay, in which protagonist Michael and his two new-found friends discover, observe, and interact with an array of amazing characters. The chapters are sketches -- vivid but also lightly drawn -- of two simultaneous journeys: one, a three-week physical voyage from Colombo to London; and, the other, Michael's evolution from a pre-teen boy into a mature adult. The story's structure reminded me somewhat of Evan Connell's "Mrs. Bridge" in its use of short, razor-sharp vignettes and the lyric dreaminess found in Tea Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife". Regardless of what else it reminds me of, however, "The Cat's Table" stands on its own as a finely--written, well-observed, and insightful book.
gbower on LibraryThing 6 months ago
This is my first experience with Ondaatje's writing but certainly will not be my last. By chance I chose to bring this book as reading material on a recent cruise and the descriptions of a boys sea journey were enhanced for me by my being on board a seagoing passenger vessel. Although he claimed the story was not an autobiography Ondaatje certainly made the reader feel it was real and each character came to life on the pages. I found the book beautifully written and .look forward to reading more of his work.
TomKitten on LibraryThing 6 months ago
"That was a small lesson I learned on the journey. What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power. Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves." p. 75, Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's TableOn board a ship, the Cat's Table, we are told, is at the opposite end of the social scale from the Captain's table, though such an exalted name would seem to suggest otherwise, at least in this humble feline's opinion. Michael, an eleven year old boy, is assigned a place at the cat's table when he journeys from his native Ceylon to begin school in England, some time in the early 1950's. As the above quote makes clear, he soon realizes that, despite it's lowly status, the Cat's table is where all the really fun people are dine every night with him. He becomes friends with two other boys, roughly his own age, and the three of them vow to do one forbidden thing every day for the entire six weeks it takes to reach England. Innocent pranks often lead to disastrous consequences and, by the end of the novel, we know that Michael's life has been permanently altered by the people he's come to know and by the events that have taken place on board the Oronsay. I love Michael Ondaatje's writing. I always begin his books knowing I'm in good, trustworthy, experienced hands, though I often have no idea where he'll be taking me. But, to quote Leonard Woolf, it's the journey not the arrival that matters, and never more so than in this superb coming of age story that has the ring of truth filtered through fiction. This will surely lead my best of the year for 2012.
mckait on LibraryThing 6 months ago
This is a tale of a voyage from Sri Lanka to London on a ship named Oronsay, as seen through the eyes of a young boy traveling alone. The people at the Cats Table, that is, the one the most distant from the important Captain's table, make up much of this story. They and the others on board that eleven year old Michael meets along the way. Cassius, Ramadhin, to other boys at the table become his fast friends and the adventures and fascination begin almost immediately. A young lady, or a Spinster, as they say was along for the ride. as was a piano player, past his prime. There was also a tailor and a ship junker as well. A ship junker was a person who helped to dismantle ships when their time at sea was done. Most interesting to me was the botanist, who had an entire garden of useful plants along with him for the trip to his new home. Oh, and Mr Fonseka, teacher met on the voyage who read to the boys and shared stories with them was a small player in the story, but I think a larger one in the story of the lives of these boys. Then among the wealthy passengers was one Sir Hector de Silva was traveling to England against the advice of doctors treating his hydrophobia. He was afflicted due to the curse of a monk to whom he had shown disrespect. He traveled with two Doctors and a Ayurvedic Healer, as well as his family. His fate was intertwined with that of the boys in an unexpected way. I loved this book. It was like sitting beside a fire and hearing a story from the past, told by a good and gentle friend. You will meet artists and prisoners and beautiful girls along the way. You will be told of the antics of these boys and you will surely disapprove as I did at times, but you will cheer them on and sigh with relief. You will be brought into the their lives as men and learn their fates, and it will all be done in a most pleasant way.
Litfan on LibraryThing 6 months ago
It's difficult to write this review; in some places this novel is brilliant and in others, plodding. The novel starts out strong as the narrator, a young boy, boards the Oronsay from Ceylon to England. He is traveling alone, and his traveling companions become his dinner mates at the cat's table (the table farthest from the Captain's). The narrator is an inquisitive boy, and through his eyes we witness the happenings on the ship-- some everyday and mundane, and others intriguing. There is a prisoner aboard the ship, and this instantly captures the attention of Michael, the narrator, and his two friends. Michael's powers of observation are fairly astute, and the writing is powerful and sharp. The early part of the book reminded me of Life of Pi and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and if I were reviewing this first part alone, this would have been a five star review without question.The ship is a microcosm of society, and Michael's understanding of the divide between classes, and the relationship between children and adults, is cemented on this journey. His learning about the workings of the world in this shipboard snapshot of the larger world are compelling and endearing, and the author deftly captures his changing views as he grows up aboard the ship. In the later part of the book, however, the tone seems to change-- it becomes darker, and this wasn't the trouble so much as the sudden feeling of being more distant from Michael and the other characters. We move between Michael's present adult life, and his time as a boy on the ship. More characters become involved in the story, but we never really get to know any of them enough to feel a connection. This makes it difficult to stay invested in the story. The mystery surrounding the prisoner does heat up, lending some interest. But unfortunately, the plot toward the end of the book seems to just skim the surface. I had hoped for it to go deeper and was disappointed that it didn't.It's a worthwhile read by an obviously talented writer, but based on the first part of the book I had hoped for a much stronger finish.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I am a fan of Michael Ondaatje. I enjoyed this book, on the surface is a mystery, the setting being a trip on the ocean. there is a killing and like any good mystery you don't know what really happened until the end. but it more then that kind of mystery, "We only understand life looking backwards but life must be lived forward." Excellent read
mtrumbo on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Slow and subtle novel about a young man reflecting on his time on a passenger ship during his youth. Truthfully the story was quite average - which is why I ended up giving it three stars. But Ondaatje's prose was quite beautiful and was the reason why I kept picking up the book.
vancouverdeb on LibraryThing 6 months ago
No need to rush out and purchase The Cat's Table . Whether you choose to read it or not, you will not lose out either way. I am glad that my copy was from the library.While Ondaatje takes pains to tell us that the book is fictional,it reads like an impressionistic memoir.Our eleven year old ( and sometimes adult) narrator Michael tells the tale of traveling by ship from Colombo Sri Lanka to the UK.The cat's table is where the least privileged sit to eat meals.The book is not a demanding read,nor does it give much back.The story moves very slowly, there are some interesting characters and small events, but overall The Cat's Table is a somewhat boring read.The supposed climax is a rather large anti-climax. I certainly enjoy many slow paced reads,but I expect there to be something of interest to ponder on from such a novel. This was not the case with The Cat's Table. Quoting from the book jacket"The Cat's Table is a thrilling, deeply moving novel" , I must admit that I found the book to be neither. Why is the book on the Giller LongList? Because the author is Michael Ondjaatje. I struggled with whether to give this book 3 or 3.5 stars, but I gave it 3.5 stars because the book was of some interest.