“The Cat’s Table” is story about a young boy, essentially a young Michael Ondaatje, who is placed aboard an ocean liner in the 1950s unaccompanied by...more“The Cat’s Table” is story about a young boy, essentially a young Michael Ondaatje, who is placed aboard an ocean liner in the 1950s unaccompanied by his parents and ignored by most adults throughout the long trip. He and two friends run amuck and meet and observe a diverse cast of secondary characters some of whom are their tablemates at the cat’s table which is the ocean liner version of the table next to the kitchen (it’s for the riffraff).
Sounds like it could be interesting, right? That’s what I thought. Sadly, I was never able to get into this book; it was aimless (outside of the evident direction of the ship) and about as stimulating as I imagine a weeks-long journey on a ship would be, minus the dysentery. I felt like Elaine Benes sitting through the English Patient wondering why everyone seems to love the movie, but she just wants Ondaatje to “quit telling your stupid story about the stupid desert”. Well, Ondaatje, quit telling your stupid story about your stupid childhood ocean voyage! I will give a nod to Ondaatje for the chapter Ramadhin’s Heart, a gentle portrait of long-lost friends, but it wasn’t enough to lift the rest of the novel. (less)
Spy novels are meant to explore the moral gray areas that exist when you have state actors performing extralegal deeds which may individually be uneth...moreSpy novels are meant to explore the moral gray areas that exist when you have state actors performing extralegal deeds which may individually be unethical or inhumane yet, when done in the interest of the safety of one’s country, becomes pseudo-sanctified. The great heroes of these stories are usually flawed because the reader is never completely sure that their actions are just. To me, this crisis of conscience is what makes spy novels fun to read.
Apparently, Daniel Silva thinks differently. Gone are the complexities of motive and the psychological toll of good people behaving brutally; this is post 9/11, man! Terrorists are terrorists because they’re evil! No person whose responsibility it is to kill bad guys would ever have doubts because the bad guys are terrorists. And terrorists, as previously established, are evil! Oh, and I don’t even need to tell you who the terrorists are in this book: every single Arab or Muslim character mentioned. And who are the good guys? Every single American, Israeli, and Catholic character. Whew! That’s a relief because I’d hate to be surprised or conflicted over a character’s intentions…in a spy novel.
It’s this remarkably simplistic worldview that Silva injects into this novel that I’m sure is great for selling books at airports, but if you have any interest in complicated characters or even a basic understanding of the politics and history of the Middle East, it is infuriating. I don’t want to turn this into a political thing, but maybe we can all agree that Israel has not always acted ethically while Palestinians are not always ruthless bastards; the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is way more complicated than that. However, Silva practically portrays Israelis as innocently petting puppies on their front stoops minding their own business when all of the sudden rabid Palestinians descend and tear them to pieces. Because they hate their freedom, right? So in that light, our Israeli hero is always angelic in his intentions and never doubts his mission while the terrorist bad guys are simply spiteful pricks who do their best to kill innocent civilians. Easy-peasy.
So, since there is no depth, this is more of an adventure than a spy novel. I’m still giving it 2 stars because, if read as an action-packed story in the vein of most Jason Statham movies, then it’s actually a well-paced, fun book. But do not go into this book hoping for any intricacies as I did.
One last comment: I hate it when writers can’t stick with the simplest consistency of character description: “Chiara, fastidious in all other things, always left her breakfast dishes in the sink” then, one sentence later “he tossed his bag onto the unmade bed” in her apartment. Grr. Silva might as well just change her hair color mid scene. (less)