The Cat's Table

Ondaatje, Michael

Book - 2011
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Cat's Table
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the "cat's table"--as far from the Captain's Table as can be--with a ragtag group of "insignificant" adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: one man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator's elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself "with a distant eye" for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another Cat's Table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy's adult years, it tells a spellbinding story--by turns poignant and electrifying--about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9780307700117
Branch Call Number: FICTION ONDAATJE 2011
Characteristics: 269 p. ;,22 cm


From Library Staff

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the "cat's table"--as far from the Captain's Table as can be--with a ragtag group of "insignificant" adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin.

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Feb 12, 2015
  • rodraglin rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

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.

May 27, 2014
  • PatrickLongworth1969 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

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

Jun 09, 2013
  • WVMLBookClubTitles rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

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
  • valliereads rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Fascinating. Unlike anything else I've read.

Mar 28, 2013
  • bwortman rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

A fascinating collection of characters and truly delectable prose make this novel a delight. For those familiar with Ondaatje's works, this novel is a beautiful addition to his body of work. With a plot that fluxes in and out of the time aboard the ship, following first one character and then another, resolving both large and small mysteries. Yet the novel is always tracking towards the ultimate conclusion that briefly shines a metaphor on the human experience which is utterly worth encountering.

Mar 18, 2013
  • JCLMichelleH rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Ondaatje is especially good at portraying the wonder a young person experiences when he first discovers the magic and sorrow of the adult world. A great and memorable book.

Jan 18, 2013
  • mombrarian rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

A rich and captivating tale that demonstrates just why Ondaatje is one of our finest storytellers. Cat’s Table centers on a mystery that is somehow both intricate and simple in its unraveling. Beautifully told.

Jan 01, 2013
  • zipread rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

The Cat’s Table --- by Michael Ondatje --- What does it mean when one says “that is an interesting book?” Is that what one says when you must read a book for fifty pages and still the book does not compel you to read it further? I have read books like these --- and felt deceived. I came to reading Ondatje feeling intimidated. After all, he doesn’t write fiction, he writes literature. Fiction is like Coca Cola. Literature is like Elderberry Presse. So. How was The Cat’s Table? Elegant. Thoughtful. A book that took me in and, in spite of the fact that it was not an “adventure novel”. It made me look forward to what happened next. And just by coincidence the three protagonists were three young boys on an ocean voyage to a new land. That was something with which I could identity. And in September 1954 no less. Do read this book. You will find it gently enjoyable.

Dec 14, 2012
  • sharon711 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

The story takes place mainly on a ocean liner traveling from Ceylon to Britain in the 1950s. Even the physical nature of the book conveyed the times, with its heavy paper feathered on the edges and its sepia photo on the cover
The biggest weakness in this tale was the lack of an over-riding plot line that united the characters. I found it difficult to place such a large cast of people as the story progressed. The small vignettes were evocative in themselves, but much of the story had no bearing on the plot - if it was the prisoner’s tale, or perhaps on a deeper level Michael’s awakening to the ethics behind good and bad behavior? From the opening quote I get the impression the author wants to comment upon the vagaries of youth and how our early experiences direct our entire lives. Ondaatje dedicates this book to Cassius, the other friend from Michael's youth whom he never meets again as an adult

Nov 07, 2012
  • howardpoole rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

A very interesting account of the voyage of 3 friends with the people they meet on board. Sometimes a bit hard to follow, but a good journey non-the-less.

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Apr 02, 2014
  • jeanie123 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

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
  • vickiz rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

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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