Review: The Cat’s Table

The Cat's Table

The Cat’s Table
By Michael Ondaatje
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307700117, October 2011, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

An intimate, deeply introspective coming-of-age tale with a bit of adventure thrown in.

The Rest of It:

Years ago, I read The English Patient and the act of reading it, physically pained me. Back then, I was a reader, but not a serious reader and I didn’t have much patience for picking a book apart to get its meaning. So when I heard that Ondaatje had a new book out, I snapped it up for two reasons. Because it sounded really, really good, and because I wanted to give this author another shot.

The story takes play aboard the ocean liner Oronsay, as it makes its 1954 voyage from Ceylon to England. On board, is Michael, age 11 who for the most part, is making the 3-week trip by himself. For a boy his age, a trip like this is nothing but an adventure and so when he is seated at the “Cat’s” table, which is the less desirable dining location and the opposite of the Captain’s table, he sees nothing wrong with it. In fact, this is where he meets other boys his age, Cassius (the troublemaker) and Ramadhin (a thoughtful, but rather sickly boy).

The passages on the ship are delicately handled, in that what appears to be brief, inconsequential exchanges, are in fact life-changing interactions that shape and form these boys on their way to adulthood.  It should be noted, that I did not see it this way until finishing the book and taking several weeks to think about these characters. At first, the story seemed unremarkable to me except that it takes place on a ship which is not the usually setting for a coming-of-age story. The setting immediately pulls you in, but Michael’s role as observer grows tiresome, until you begin to hear him speak as adult.

I am glad that I waited to write this review, as my feelings about the book have changed numerous times. It’s a beautifully written novel, almost lyrical at times but it’s the type of novel that reads easy, almost too easy only for you to realize later (in my case, much later) that you enjoyed the book quite a bit.  If you like subtle, deeply introspective stories, then you will enjoy this one.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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22 Responses

  1. I thought the audio version was rather good as well. I almost passed on this one. Glad u enjoyed it as well.

  2. His books tend to have that quality of hitting you later with how much you enjoyed them. Thanks for the review of his latest…now I have to go pick it up.

    • Since I had a positive experience with this one, I may try English Patient again. I’m older. Maybe it will be different.

  3. One of the things I like about blogging is that it makes us really think about the books and process our thoughts which then sometimes changes our opinion about the books. I tend to enjoy coming of age books so I’m thinking I’d probably like this one.

  4. Beautiful review, Ti. I always rush to write my thoughts about a book, afraid that I will forget something. You have me rethinking this idea, particularly for books that strike me deeply.

    • Usually I write my reviews as soon as I finish the book but lately… I have been on such a reading roll and do not feel like writing the reviews. I am behind by 8-10 books. I may have lost count. Once I start to write them up though, the key points come back to me.

  5. You’ve just reminded me of this wonderful book. I read it when it came out, enjoyed it and wrote a review on Goodreads, and then forgot about it. You know, I reread The English Patient before reading The Cat’s Table, and found them similar in some ways. Both about a life-changing journey, although the latter is not of a grand scale as the former, but to a 11-yr-old boy, it’s epic. BTW, that’s a bit autobiographical too.

  6. I’ve never heard of either this book or this author but I’m going to have to add both to my list. I love books that make you think about them long after your done.

  7. I read The English Patient too and it was almost too lyrical for me. Not sure I want to try this one.

  8. I had a similar experience with The English Patient Years ago – maybe it’s time for me to give Ondaatje another chance, too.

  9. I’m not sure what is good. To read it and get it straight away or to read it and not get it and then get it after that? It does seem the latter is a more powerful afterthought. I haven’t read anything from this writer, the last time I tried Anil’s ghost, I abandoned it. I heard from someone that Diviserado is just as bad!

    • Someone on Twitter said Anil’s Ghost was wonderful. I’ll give him another shot since I liked this one, but I do remember my battle with English Patient. I picked it up and put it down about 20 times before saying goodbye for good.

  10. Of course I forgot what I wrote yesterday…I think I said it was a lovely review…

  11. But I said it better yesterday…lol…

  12. Ti, this one sounds so good! I’m definitely adding it to my TBR list. I read The English Patient and saw the film and loved them both. I was in college at the time, so taking books apart was my cup of tea. Of course, I read The English Patient for fun, so I tried not to take it apart, but at that time every book was in for some analysis (I couldn’t help myself). Anyhow, this one sounds ripe for picking apart and I’m looking forward to it ;)

  13. Ti — I agree I liked the ending part of the book better than the start. check out my take at http://www.thecuecard.com/ cheers.

  14. I’m not one to ponder a book so I’m not sure this is for me.

  15. I remember reading The English Patient in high school and making it about twenty pages. This one intrigues, as I’m a very different reader now too, and I need to make time to read it. Thanks for sharing the evolution of your thoughts. I’m currently experiencing something similar with Ali Smith’s There but for the. I can’t bring myself to write a review yet because my thoughts keep changing.

  16. [...] Yates 8. Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan 9. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds 10.  The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje 11. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan 12. The Particular Sadness [...]

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