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.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.