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The Cat's Table

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  18,906 Ratings  ·  2,605 Reviews
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 tum ...more
Hardcover, 269 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf (first published 2011)
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Popular Answered Questions

cb i honestly just made an account for this thing to write to you...

i'm reading this book right now, at a very young age, (loving the book so far), and…more
i honestly just made an account for this thing to write to you...

i'm reading this book right now, at a very young age, (loving the book so far), and don't really understand why you would say that. if it's so hard for you at your current age level, then don't read it yet!! just wait until you're older. you can't blame the book just because it isn't easy enough for you, that's unfair. if you read it in a few years, you'll definitely appreciate + understand it much better. have a nice day :)(less)
Daisy Nearly everything in the book is symbolic. From the ages of the boys (young, but entering a new phase of life) to the prisoner (the captivity of the…moreNearly everything in the book is symbolic. From the ages of the boys (young, but entering a new phase of life) to the prisoner (the captivity of the boat, their lives, and other things) to the idea of the group being at the table furthest away from the captain (furthest away from the power). Not knowing where you are in the book, I hesitate to mention more.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jamie Bradway
Feb 09, 2012 Jamie Bradway rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tob-2012
It's a four-star book with five stars. I'll explain in a minute.

I'm still thinking on the Cat's Table. I've enjoyed Ondaatje's poetry more than his novels and this book seems to straddle those categories a bit. He writes beautifully on the visual and emotional fronts. He structures long works creatively and I'm still trying to decide how well this one works for me.

The Cat's Table is, primarily, a story of a three-week voyage by ship, from Colombo to London. Its focus is on three unrelated and un
Oct 20, 2011 Cynthia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Trip through the Liminal

It's hard to imagine today but in 1953 Michael, who was eleven years old, traveled by ship from his native Sri Lanka to England with virtually no adult supervision. He had an `aunt' traveling in first class who chatted with him a few times throughout the trip when they happened to meet on deck but other than that he was on his own. There was a vast distance between steerage, where Michael berthed, and first class. In steerage he mixed with the crew, an odd assortment of

Michael was eleven years old that night when, green as he could be about the world , he climbed aboard the first and only ship of his life, the Oronsay, sailing for England from Colombo.

Unbeknownst to him, the twenty-one days at sea would become twenty-one years of schooling, molding him into the adult he would one day be, when he joined the cat's table, the least important place to eat on the ship.

The lessons he picked up from the adult company filled up several pages of his old school exercis
Finishing a book and feeling compelled to turn to the first page again to reread it is not something I do a lot but The Cat's Table is just such a book. The writing is quietly beautiful and the description of the long vanished world of a 1950's trip on an ocean liner is perfect. The reread offers extra insights into that world and underlines the complexity of Ondaatje's story telling. There are many hints of the events to come but they remain quite subtle, not at all menacing. In fact the dramat ...more
Glenn Sumi
Jan 29, 2016 Glenn Sumi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
No one writes poetic prose like Michael Ondaatje. But his gorgeous, sensuous language and piercing insights into the human condition sometimes impede the flow of his latest novel.

The Cat's Table takes place on a ship called the Oronsay in the early 1950s, heading from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to England, where Michael (we'll get to that name later), the 11-year-old narrator, is heading to live with his estranged mother.

The title refers to the dining table for the ship's misfits, who include the n
Jan 11, 2012 Vicki rated it really liked it
The Cat's Table would have been enchanting as just a series of character sketches and picaresque vignettes, culminating in an affecting reassessment as an adult of the connections made as a child. That a genuine mystery emerges during that short but momentous voyage - gravitating around a menacing, shackled prisoner who is only let out under highly and unusually protected conditions at night - is a splendid, intriguing bonus.

If The Cat's Table is not Ondaatje's best novel yet (oh, but I think it
Nov 03, 2011 Ken rated it liked it
Cat's Table -- the ocean liner equivalent of the kiddie's table, only leavened with a motley group of adult ne'er-do-wells as well. It's where little Michael Ondaatje, age 11, sat on a memorable (thus, the book) voyage aboard the Oransay many decades ago.

In this book, we meet not only Michael but his comrades-in-mischief, bad-boy Cassius and thoughtful Ramadhin. The three of them do what bored boys do -- get into trouble and spy on interesting adults, especially interesting women like Michael's
Aug 16, 2011 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011-favorites
Ondaatje's latest novel is, perhaps, his most "approachable" yet. It lacks the (somewhat) "foreign-ness" of Anil's Ghost and the "intellectual-ness" of Divisadero. (It's been too long since I read The English Patient to adequately come up with a comparison.) But most importantly, it has the same almost lyrically beautiful prose of other novels. It also reads faster. It is a page turner – not so much because the story is riveting, but because the prose flows so easily.

The Cat's Table takes place,
Sep 30, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: coming-of-age
It is a long while since I read The English Patient and I had forgotten how well Ondaatje writes. This is the tale of a journey. Michael is 11 and travelling unaccompanied on an ocean liner (the Oronsay) from Colombo to London (via Aden, the Suez Canal, the Med), where he is to meet his mother. There is a relative aboard who will keep a distant eye on him, but Michael is pretty much left to his own devices. Michael teams up with two other boys in a similar situation; Cassius and Ramadhin. They s ...more
The Cat's Table is the story a 11 year old boy named Michael, told by him and describing his three week journey from the land that was once called Ceylon to the grand country of England by sea. Michael is a lone traveler, leaving the only country he knows for a completely unknown one. On the ship he quickly befriends two other fellows his age, and the merry brigade is up to do some mischief, hear the stories that adults tell and spy on the mysterious shackled prisoner. With such a premise, The C ...more
Nov 17, 2015 Cheryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian, literature
I love the cover on this book. The font, the sepia tones, the old-fashioned liner being tossed atop a sea that looks askew, all hint at a journey of the past that did not go smoothly. The story is told in the first person from the perspective of an older man recalling the past; it is of himself as an 11 year old leaving his life in Sri Lanka to join his mother in England. "Some events take a lifetime to reveal their damage and influence." He must go alone on a 3 week journey by ship. He is still ...more
A very satisfying read that left me with a lot of lingering emotions. And delayed insights about the mysteries of how we grow into our adult selves. Michael reflects back on a long journey on an ocean liner he took in the early 50’s when he was 11, travelling from his life with his emotionally distant father in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to his mother in England, where she moved after a divorce.

He is poorly supervised by a female family friend who travels in first class. Michael makes friends with t
Jun 20, 2013 Tony rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian, sri-lankan
It's not the opening sentence. Stuff happens before that. Our narrator, 11 year-old Michael, aka Mynah, but not aka Michael Ondaatje (we are told in an afterword), has already boarded a ship from Colombo and bound for England. He is assigned to the Cat's Table, that one farthest from the Captain's table in distance and prestige, and he meets two boys his age.

And then, there it is:

Sleep is a prison for a boy who has friends to meet.

Spend a year, spend five years, and try to write a better senten
Frances Greenslade
I heard Michael Ondaatje being interviewed by Shelagh Rogers on CBC radio the other night. She spent the first portion of the interview asking him about the autobiographical aspects of the novel and, strangely, he said, somewhat dismissively I thought, that he wasn't interested in writing about himself. He said his writing is driven by curiosity, implying that autobiography isn't.

He then went on to confirm all the parallels between the novel and his own life. I don't begrudge him the fictionaliz
John C.
Mar 21, 2012 John C. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author’s most famous claim to fame is his novel ‘The English Patient’ which when on to become a successful movie at the box office. That was a good movie and the book was extremely well received.
The reviews on this novel ‘The Cat’s Table’ seem mixed although my review is straightforward. It bored me to tears. Why I even finished it I will never know.
The story revolves around a few adolescences on an ocean liner set sail from Colombo headed for Britain. I believe it was set in the late fortie
Aug 04, 2012 ·Karen· rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps I'd better start with the novel in case it appears inconsequential, just tagged on to the end as an afterthought. I might give the impression that it was lacking in some way, that it failed to engage me. Not so, not so. It was as wondrous as I'd hoped and wished for, maintaining a breathtaking balance between re-enacting the naivety of that eleven year old on the boat and the seasoned hindsight of the man that he became. But there was something else that intrigued me that has no great be ...more
Read this quiet, poignant book for the quality of its prose, but prepare to be surprised by the force of its plot. The Cat's Table is the story of a three-week sea voyage on the ocean liner Oronsay, as seen through the eyes of 11-year old Michael. It is 1954 and Michael has set sail from his native Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) en route to London, where his mother awaits. It is not unlike the voyage the author took in the same era, at the same age as his main character, though the author's end ...more
The Cat's Table brought me back again to how much I love Michael Ondaatje's writing. I think that how much you like this book depends very much on how much you like Ondaatje generally.

The story is simple: a young boy's three week boat voyage in the 1950s from Sri Lanka to England, his friendships with two boys his age, his connection with a young girl on the boat, and various other relationships formed there and their echoes over the years after.

Michael (despite the similarities of name and plac
Nov 24, 2011 Algernon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, favorites
How could i not love a book that starts with a quote from Joseph Conrad "Youth" ? The hero of that short story is a wide eyed innocent in love with the sea and laying eyes for the first time on the mystery and vibrant life of the Orient.
Mirroring this story, The Cat's Table is not about cats, but about the voyage of an 11 year old boy from the exuberant life of Sri Lanka to the cold shores of England. It taps into the magic of the ocean liner, from the Titanic, to Lusitania, to movies like La Le
Dee at EditorialEyes
For this review and others, visit the EditorialEyes Blog.
5 out of 5

Amid the excitement surrounding the release of George R.R. Martin’s newest book, A Dance with Dragons, I also heard a common complaint: Martin, many of his truest fans contend, takes far too long between installments, leaving readers hanging for years at a time.

Michael Ondaatje, one of Canada’s literary superstars, doesn’t seem to garner the same complaint, despite breaks of five to eight years between titles. His admirers
T.D. Whittle
Sep 28, 2014 T.D. Whittle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
There are quite a few good reviews on The Cat's Table already, so I am not going to go into explanations about plot, etc. I rarely choose books based on plot, anyway, and discussing it too much bores me. When I do get in the mood to read for plot, I read genre books or popular fiction, not Ondaatje. What I believe brings most of us readers to Ondaatje is his lyrical language, his exquisite prose styling, and his rendering of subtle and complex characters whom one imagines it would be fascinating ...more
Morana Mazor
Dugo sam i žarko željela pročitati ovu knjigu, ali nekako me malo razočarala... Onako, ok je.. Kroz oči jedanaestogodišnjeg dječaka pratimo putovanje prekooceanskim brodom, '50-ih god. prošlog stolj. od Cejlona do Velike Britanije... "Mačji stol" naziv je stola u dnu blagavaonice za kojim je smješten glavni junak, njegova dva prijatelja i skupina specifičnih, odraslih likova. I tako ta tri dječaka tijekom putovanja promatraju, osluškuju ljude i događaje na brodu.. A ljudi i događaja ima zaista i ...more
Always Pink
May 14, 2015 Always Pink rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Goodreads sadly ate my first review, and I do not like having to rehash my thoughts, but this exquisite little gem of a novel certainly deserves an effort. I found it faultless, filled with wonderful vignettes, a lot of wisdom and precious observations. It will be my gift of choice for special friends from now on. I just wish I would have read this book on a journey, maybe even on a sea journey. To imagine myself reclining on a deck chair, sighing over a phrase or a chapter and then to lift my e ...more
James Barker
There was a time I thought Michael Ondaatje was the kind of writer that could spin gold out of any straw story like a literary Rumpelstiltskin. 'Coming Through Slaughter'- a work of genius. 'In the Skin of a Lion'- damn close. 'Divisadero'- a little too precious to be a 5-star book but still worthy of a read. But THIS? Is this the law of diminishing returns? The story of a boy's journey by (the castle of a) ship from Sri Lanka to London it apes the author's own experiences and should surely ther ...more
Oct 28, 2014 Stacia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2012
I finished Michael Ondaatje's "The Cat's Table" today. Gorgeous. He's an absolute master of prose, imo. Though he writes that the book is fiction, it reads almost as a mix of an autobiographical remembrance of a series of events (centered around a ship voyage from Ceylon to Britain when the protagonist is 11yo) & musings on how seemingly small events, chance encounters, & memories can alter the path of one's life. Part seems so real, so grounded in reality, yet much of the writing has th ...more
Jan 23, 2013 Shane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I might be biased in this review, being a fellow colonial from Sri Lanka who also wrote a novel about three young men that left the old country to seek their fortunes abroad. But my novel, The Ulysses Man, began in 1961 and Ondaatje’s is set in 1954, and I realized that a lot happened to change that country and its people in-between. While I saw the island slide into the abyss of civil war, Ondaatje left when the colony was still strong and there was much to give up in leaving.

A sea voyage, fre
Barbara McVeigh
Nov 20, 2011 Barbara McVeigh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giller, fiction
November 1, 2011:
I'm reading The Cat's Table. My husband is listening to it on audio book. It's a race.

November 9, 2011:
My husband won the race. I ended up borrowing his audio book and alternatively listening to and reading the novel. We both enjoyed listening to the texture and cadence of Ondaatje's voice. My husband finds it a pleasure to hear a book read by its author.

The Cat's Table takes place in a mere 21 days, but in those few weeks, a lifetime occurs. This novel captures what I loved bes
Joan Winnek
Dec 04, 2011 Joan Winnek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-book-club
Everyone in my book club enjoyed this book. A three-week sea voyage is a very long time in the life of an eleven-year-old who is leaving his native country for the first time. Ondaatje uses flash forwards to show that the narrator is an older man reflecting on his childhood experience. An intriguing motif is his wondering about how this voyage affected himself and his two boy companions, as well as his seventeen-year-old girl cousin Emily. Near the end of the book Michael and Emily meet again in ...more
Syl. A.k.a Topo di biblioteca
Feb 01, 2016 Syl. A.k.a Topo di biblioteca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Syl. A.k.a Topo di biblioteca by: Deepika
I liked this book, and thought it definitely worth 5, or at the most, 4 stars during the entire first half. But the second half was not as good.
Cat's table - is the table furthest from the Captain's table in a ship dining hall. While captain's table is the most coveted, with all the VIPs, cat's table is the opposite.
This is the story of an eleven year old, Michael, aka Mynah, who sojourns alone in a voyage from Srilanka to England to meet his mother, who had migrated 4 years ago, leaving the sev
switterbug (Betsey)
Sep 23, 2011 switterbug (Betsey) rated it it was amazing
Elegiac, enigmatic, eloquent, elegant, evocative, ethereal. And another E for exemplary. Award-winning author Michael Ondaatje is certainly one of the most commanding, gifted, and original authors alive today, a poetic and lyrical writer who constructs stories with piquant, vivid imagery and interleaving, nonlinear storylines, and presents subtle motifs throughout his stories that bring you closer and closer to the emotional core of his characters. This novel has a circular feel, a sense of desc ...more
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  • Half Blood Blues
  • The Antagonist
  • The Little Shadows
  • The Free World
  • Into the Heart of the Country
  • Light Lifting
  • A World Elsewhere
  • Monoceros
  • Cool Water
  • Two Solitudes
  • Extensions
  • The Last Brother
  • The High Road
  • Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
  • A Good Man
  • Irma Voth
  • Siege 13
  • Caught
He was born to a Burgher family of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese-Portuguese origin. He moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishops College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's Universit ...more
More about Michael Ondaatje...

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“We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to untie.” 233 likes
“What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power.” 51 likes
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