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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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.

Oct 10, 2012
  • jmikesmith rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This novel starts out as the narrator's tale of his ocean journey from his native Ceylon to England when he was 11 years old. He was sent abroad to join his mother, who'd left for England several years before. The narrator tells us how he was seated with other social misfits and outcasts at the "Cat's Table", the table in the ship's dining room that was farthest from the Captain's table. He recounts the friendships he formed with two other boys and their experiences mingling with the large cast of adult characters aboard the ship. Later in the story, the narrator examines how that journey affected the adult he became and how his life continued to intersect with the lives of fellow passengers.

This is a finely-crafted novel that is easy to read and yet displays a literary voice that takes it above a typical mass-market best-seller (the narrator becomes a writer in later life; it is worth noting that author Michael Ondaatje also sailed from Ceylon to England at age 11, although he says the book is not autobiographical). Told in an unhurried, almost languid voice, the story draws you into its unique time and place. The themes reminded me of Julian Barnes's "The Sense of an Ending", in that it touches upon the importance of childhood events even though childhood memories may not be reliable, how we define ourselves to others through our stories, and how we can never fully understand other people's stories because we didn't live them. Despite misunderstandings and missed opportunities, most of us manage to craft identities for ourselves that carry us through life. We may lose the innocence (and ignorance) of childhood, but we don't have to forget what it was like.

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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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app07 Version jokkmokk Last updated 2015/01/22 14:24