John's Reviews > The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jan 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: books-i-own, fiction

Michael Ondaatje returns once more to his youth to craft a memorable, and at times poignant and electrifying, odyssey of a young boy's sea voyage from his native Ceylon to distant England in "The Cat's Table", which is a notable addition among his novels in a long, productive, and illustrious literary career, though it falls short of his earlier classics "The English Patient" and "Anil's Ghost" (However, I do regard it as among the best novels published this year that I've read, having been engrossed with Ondaatje's simple, yet quite lyrical, prose so much that I found it impossible to put down.). His latest is neither another routine coming-of-age novel nor one that recalls wistfully, with ample pathos, the loss of innocence of a young boy at the cusp of adolescence. Instead, Ondaatje uses this seaborne odyssey as a means of allowing his young protagonist, Michael, as an adult, to recall and then to reflect on, the subsequent fortunes of himself, Ramadhin and Cassius (his two young friends aboard the liner Oronsay) and his cousin Emily (another fellow Oronsay passenger) looking back on the voyage itself as a key momentous event in their respective lives.

Ondaatje introduces us to the three boys and rather undistinguished adults sitting at the "cat's table", the one furthest from the Captain's table in the liner's dining room. There's Max Mazappa, the ship's pianist dreaming of reviving his prior successful career in music, Ceylonese botanist Larry Daniels (who, like the boys, is making his first trip to Europe), and an English woman, Perinetta Lasquetti, a pigeon fancier, en route home to England with her small colony of pigeons. Michael and the others receive from them a first-rate education on jazz and on the sex lives of women. From his older cousin Emily, he feels the first stirrings of adolescent sexual arousal. There are also two shadowy figures, looming large within the imaginations of the boys and adults, as though they are unseen specters haunting the ship; the shackled prisoner, a Ceylonese murderer, seen by Michael and the other boys at night, pacing the deck under guard, and the bedridden, hydrophobic Ceylonese businessman, whose ultimate fates will follow equally disastrous courses during Oronsay's three-week long sea voyage.

Readers may find jarring Ondaatje's narrative shifts between the young and adult Michael, and how certain key scenes are rendered differently from the perspectives of Ramadhin, Cassius and Emily. This may be why "The Cat's Table" isn't quite the literary classic that "The English Patient" is, but some may think that they do work, especially when he recounts a pivotal moment at night during the voyage, through the eyes of his long-lost cousin Emily, whom he meets unexpectedly years later, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Readers will certainly appreciate Ondaatje's excellent prose, and that, more than anything else, may be the key reason why his fictional sea voyage is one well worth taking.

2 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Cat's Table.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.