Neil's Reviews > The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
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Feb 20, 12

bookshelves: tournament-of-books-2012
Read from February 17 to 20, 2012

I love it when a novel starts out as one kind of thing and then at some point starts to open out into something much bigger than I've come to expect--without betraying the charms of the opening sections. (The danger is that if it's not pulled off well, switching scope like this can feel like a breaking of the agreement between the author and reader.)

In _The Cat's Table_, Ondaatje does such a masterful job of establishing the narrator's voice--recalling his experience nearly 60 years ago, as an 11-year-old, on a three-week ocean journey from Ceylon to England--that I was convinced it was mostly autobiography. And the episodic telling of life on board the ship, with the little mysteries behind every strange new face he encounters, providing lots of reading pleasure.

Every once in a while, the narrator jumps forward to tell what happened to one of the fellow passengers, and we get a fuller sense of the man the narrator has become. But then, in the last third of the book, the depth of what's being shared about the present increases dramatically and the fairly light tone of what happened on the ship becomes more and more mysterious.

The uncertainty is intoxicating and turns the book into something extraordinary. It also reinforced my feeling that it was fairly true. I was flabbergasted by the author's note emphasizing that it's fiction.
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02/17/2012 page 80
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