The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table

eBook - 2012
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From Michael Ondaatje: an electrifying new novel, by turns thrilling and deeply moving — one of his most vividly rendered and compelling works of fiction to date.
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly "Cat's Table" with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. At night they spy on a shackled prisoner — his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.
Looking back from deep within adulthood, and gradually moving back and forth from the decks and holds of the ship to the years that follow the narrator unfolds a spellbinding and layered tale about the magical, often forbidden discoveries of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding, about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a sea voyage.


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Dec 08, 2018

Extraordinary writing, details, character development, and an ending that allows you to imagine how it should end. Like eating a rich dessert without the bloat.

Nov 14, 2018

I read this for book club and it's another example of a book I probably wouldn't have read if I didn't have to. I quite liked it and no one else did.

He's got a great writing style and it kept me captivated and also smiling at his sentences. All of the characters were interesting and it was definitely a character-driven book. Some were really mysterious but it felt right because it was from the point-of-view of an 11-year-old, but the narrator was actually older when he was writing it, so there was reflection and some explanation given by his older self.

I feel like I talked about this for 2 hours at book club yesterday and didn't run out of things to say but now I can't write it down in a review. Overall, I recommend it to anyone.

RogerDeBlanck Jun 19, 2018

Ondaatje’s powerful novel The Cat’s Table unfolds in concise, fascinating anecdotes and with multiple storylines that are woven seamlessly together to reveal self-discoveries, both past and present. The prose is vintage Ondaatje: mesmerizing and beautiful, what constitutes an artisan at his best. Through the eyes of the novel’s protagonist, Michael, who I sense may be a representation of Ondaatje himself, we witness a likable and compassionate boy with a perceptive and inquisitive mind. All the major action in the novel transpires on the ship Michael boards on its voyage from Ceylon to England. Along with two other boys he befriends on the journey, Michael’s experiences and adventures let us see the world in all its complexity and grandeur. Ondaatje makes the universe resonate from that ship. He includes a cast of characters that are distinctive and elusive, but also revelatory in their musings due to their own sojourns and experiences. Michael’s coming-of-age takes place on that ship, and his encounters become instrumental later in life when new angles of self-discovery confront him. Ondaatje makes the world appear magical with points of connection that we never stop to consider. Every detail in this book matters, and even as the many stories and characters are interesting on their own, when the big picture starts to assemble, the impact of the work becomes profound.

ArapahoeStaff26 Feb 14, 2018

Exuberant 11 year old boys on board a ship sailing from Sri Lanka to London in the 1950's. Beautifully written and completely absorbing!

VaughanPLDavidB Apr 26, 2017

I read this book because I'm leading a book club discussion. I selected it for the reputation of the author and was sorely disappointed. The story swung from the inconsequential to the preposterous. The narrator recounted facts he could not possibly have been privy to and the author strained a literary device to the breaking point to try to to tell a story out of one of the characters' past, a Miss Lasqueti. It was a period of her life that had absolutely nothing to do with the story the author was trying to tell, and was completely unrelated to role she played in the climax of the book. It was an exercise in literary self-indulgence on the part of the author and a complete red herring.

What I found most frustrating is that the narrator of the story barely acknowledged the fact that he was complicit in one man losing his job, a second being murdered, and a third escaping lawful custody. (Oops. Spoilers. Sorry, not sorry) In the end, I have to wonder why the author bothered to write this book at all, unless he had a contractual obligation to his publisher. My dislike for this book is indicative of why I generally shy away from fiction: the real stories of real people are infinitely more interesting than fictional ones.

Jul 05, 2016

Always a fan of Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. "The Cat's Table" was my second favourite of Ondaatje's works after "In the Skin of a Lion". "The Cat's Table," like his other works, is a story of storytelling at its best.

Feb 12, 2015

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.

Didn't read much of it - perhaps I'll try again another time? A very interesting book.

WVMLBookClubTitles Jun 09, 2013

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly "Cat's Table" with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. The boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. Looking back from adulthood, the narrator unfolds a spellbinding and layered tale about the magical, often forbidden discoveries of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding.

Apr 13, 2013

Fascinating. Unlike anything else I've read.

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Apr 02, 2014

I once had a friend whose heart “moved” after a traumatic incident that he refused to recognize. It was only a few years later, while he was being checked out by his doctor for some minor ailment, that this physical shift was discovered. And I wondered then, when he told me this, how many of us have a moved heart that shies away to a different angle, a millimetre or even less from the place where it first existed, some repositioning unknown to us. Emily. Myself. Perhaps even Cassius. How have our emotions glanced off rather than directly faced others ever since, resulting in simple unawareness or in some cases cold-blooded self-sufficiency that is damaging to us? Is this what has left us, still uncertain, at a Cat’s Table, looking back, looking back, searching out those we journeyed with or were formed by, even now, at our age?

Jul 19, 2011

In any case, it seemed to us that nearly all at our table, from the silent tailor, Mr. Gunesekera, who owned a shop in Kandy, to the entertaining Mr. Mazappa, to Miss Lasqueti, might have an interesting reason for their jouney, even if it was unspoken or, so far, undiscovered. In spite of this, our table's status on the Oronsay continued to be minimal, while those at the Captain's Table were constantly toasting one another's significance. 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.

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