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The Cat's Table

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  19,479 Ratings  ·  2,653 Reviews
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England – a ‘castle that was to cross the sea’. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘Cat's Table’ with an eccentric group of grown-ups 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 become involv ...more
Hardcover, 269 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Jonathan Cape (first published 2011)
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Mollie I am reading it right now and I love it. He's a poet, primarily, but writes the most beautiful prose. Yes, he uses big words, complex words. He is…moreI am reading it right now and I love it. He's a poet, primarily, but writes the most beautiful prose. Yes, he uses big words, complex words. He is erudite. So, go back to what you usually read.(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)
The Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. WatsonWhen God was a Rabbit by Sarah WinmanThe Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
Man Booker Prize Eligible 2011
5th out of 155 books — 273 voters
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Best Books of 2011
199th out of 2,339 books — 7,125 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jamie Bradway
Feb 09, 2012 Jamie Bradway rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Dec 03, 2013 Margitte rated it it was amazing

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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Frances Greenslade
Jun 12, 2014 Frances Greenslade rated it really liked it
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
Jun 20, 2013 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
John C.
Mar 21, 2012 John C. rated it did not like it
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
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
Always Pink
Jun 03, 2016 Always Pink rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015_top5
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
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
Acquiring wealth he has also acquired a complete faith in the advancements of Europe. Perhaps this would prove to be his fatal flaw.
The last time I treated with a work such as this was in 2013 with Mr. Vertigo, back when my biggest concern was whether or not one could make a switch from a career in engineering to that in English after three-and-a-half years of study with maximum efficiency and a minimum of capital. I've moved on from that to today's worries about jobs and health insurance and
switterbug (Betsey)
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
Oct 28, 2014 Stacia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 23, 2013 Shane rated it really liked it
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
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
Ipshita Sengupta
May 29, 2016 Ipshita Sengupta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"It would always be the strangers like them, at the Cat's Table of my life, who would alter me."

Ondaatje in the Author's notes mentions that even though the novel uses the colouring of a memoir and an autobiography, it is more or less a work of fiction. 'The Cat's Table' follows the journey of an 11-year-old Michael, from Colombo to Europe in a ship named Oronsay. Narrated in retrospect, when Michael is much older, he realises how the 21days journey on sea was his rite of passage into adulthood;
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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.” 245 likes
“What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power.” 52 likes
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