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The Cat's Table

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  17,132 ratings  ·  2,453 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
Kindle Edition, Vintage International, 290 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Vintage (first published 2011)
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Susan I don't know how old you are. I am a bit beyond middle-age and I agree with you 100%.

This is the 3rd book of his that we have read in our 19 year book…more
I don't know how old you are. I am a bit beyond middle-age and I agree with you 100%.

This is the 3rd book of his that we have read in our 19 year book club and I will not read another.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jamie Bradway
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
...more
Cynthia
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
...more
Margitte

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
...more
Fionnuala
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
Vicki
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
...more
Newengland
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
...more
Jonathan
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,
...more
Maciek
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
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
...more
Tony
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
...more
Paul
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
Michael
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
...more
John C.
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
...more
·Karen·
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
Ellie
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
...more
Dee at EditorialEyes
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For this review and others, visit the EditorialEyes Blog.
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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
...more
T.D. Whittle
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
Always Pink
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
Algernon
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
...more
Stacia
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
Julie
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
Shane
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
...more
Barbara McVeigh
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
...more
Joan Winnek
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
Lynda
This is an exquisite gem of a novel with many lyrical passages that sparkle like the sun upon the ocean through which the liner the Oronsay travels from exotic Colombo through the Suez Canal to the drabness of the docks at Tilbury. Ondaatje mixes memoir, biography and narrative together in a compelling mix that conveys the experience of immigration and loss of homeland in an unusual and spellbinding manner. Three boys on the cusp of adolescence travel without parents on a great liner from their ...more
Josine
Being invisible because of young age or low status allows a better view of what is going on around you. That is the idea that Ondaatje portrays in The Cat’s Table, a fictional tale with “the colouring and locations of memoir and autobiography”.

In 1954 11-year old Michael travels on an ocean liner from Colombo to London. It is a journey from East to West and from childhood into the world of adults. Largely unsupervised, Michael and two friends find exciting places and interesting people that rem
...more
Carl
Once again, a critical success by an acclaimed major writer leaves me wondering what the fuss is all about.
The first half is mostly an entertaining story about 3 boys romping through the end of their childhood, relatively free of adult restraints on their voyage from Ceylon to England. There are HINTS (hint, hint) of darkness in the future, and in fact the narrative jumps around quite a bit. (I guess one can’t be critically acclaimed anymore by writing straightforward narrative, just as the sel
...more
Jennifer
2.5 stars. I listened to this as an audio book read by the author because I thought that it would be the perfect way to experience Ondaatje's poetic writing about a boy sailing to England. I definitely have not mastered the art of the audio book. I found myself slipping into daydreams while Ondaatje's soothing voice lulled me like an almost white-noise background. It was an effort to focus on the story and I wondered if that was my failing or the author's. The writing was certainly beautiful at ...more
Linda Robinson
Writing that has me sliding barefoot on a wooden deck with three 11 year old boys is great writing. 21 days on a ship from Colombo to England, three adventurous youngsters sleep in the afternoon to roam the decks in the dark of predawn and midnight. A tailor, tinker, spy, two Violets in search of husbands, competitive bridge, a skatty Bechet fan with educational stories about the dangers of sidling up to women, a devoted but fickle Weimaraner, a prisoner in the hold, a genteel woman who may know ...more
Pat
The most beautifully written book I have read in a long time. It is the adventures of 3 young boys unchaperoned on an ocean liner and their adventures with the people at their table, the cat's table, the one furtherest from the captain's, of course. I think it is Michael Ondaatje's best - so full of beautiful figurative language you read every word and don't want it to end! Don't miss this relatively short but awesome book. My daughter Kelly recommended it to me and I highly recommend it to you!
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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
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“We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to untie.” 195 likes
“What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power.” 50 likes
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