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The Cat's Table

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  24,733 ratings  ·  3,175 reviews
A spellbinding story - by turns poignant and electrifying - about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

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 b
Hardcover, 1st, 269 pages
Published 2011 by Cape
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Virginia Nichols I thought it was about how much the storyteller's experiences--free of parental supervision--during that relatively brief voyage left an enduring mark…moreI thought it was about how much the storyteller's experiences--free of parental supervision--during that relatively brief voyage left an enduring mark upon his life. These included making friends with various adults who would bring them in as accomplices to colorful, odd, and often illegal activities. The experiences were unique to time and place. (less)

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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  24,733 ratings  ·  3,175 reviews

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Jamie Bradway
Jan 13, 2012 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
Jim Fonseca
Dec 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy from Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon back then) boards a ship bound for England. He has been living with an aunt and uncle but is going to live with his mother who has been gone for four years. 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 of his age. [I’m paraphrasing from some of the blurbs.]


The boy is an only
Glenn Sumi
Jan 28, 2015 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
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
Sep 19, 2011 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
Sep 25, 2013 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
Megan Baxter
Mar 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sitting at the Cat's Table is the least prestigious seat, but the one from which you can see the most. The Captain's table is on display, for others to look at - at the Cat's Table, you have all your time free to watch everything going on about you.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
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
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
Jul 25, 2011 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
Sep 30, 2013 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
John C.
Mar 21, 2012 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
Joy D
“There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You discover the carapace that will contain and test your character. You find in this way the path of your life.” – Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table

In 1954. eleven-year-old Michael is traveling by sea from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to England, where he will rejoin with his mother after staying with an uncle. Onboard the Oronsay, he meets two other similar age children, Cassius and Rama
Aug 16, 2011 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,
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
Julie Christine
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
Leslie Reese
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
About a week after goodreads friend Lisa Shorney added the title to her TBR list, I saw this book at the library and decided to borrow it. A breath of fresh air! Full of surprising imagery and strange words like coelacanth and trireme. This is the first book by Michael Ondaatje that I have ever read and it probably won’t be my last. I guess he is best known for The English Patient (1992) and other prose works but Ondaatje has also published at least 11 volumes of poetry, and a poetic style infor ...more
Oct 15, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, canadian
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
Jun 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sri-lankan, canadian
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
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2011
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
Frances Greenslade
Nov 08, 2011 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
Aug 12, 2011 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
T.D. Whittle
Feb 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 sense of style, and his rendering of subtle and complex characters whom one imagines it would be fascinatin ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bildungsroman
A Writer's Formation, or a Writer Fully Formed?

I cannot review this delightful book without raising one question that Ondaatje does not answer definitively until his afterword: its genre. Nowhere on the title pages is it called a novel, and indeed it seems to begin as an autobiographical memoir. A boy, aged eleven, embarks on the SS Oronsay in Colombo for the three-week journey from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to England. At the first meal, he is assigned to the table farthest away from the Captain, the
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
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
May 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't tell where the book was heading until the mysterious character in the shadows of the ship emerged. The first time the character telling the story, Michael, brings you into the present tense you realize that his boyhood journey on the Oronsay was something that stays with him through his entire life's journey, serving as a ferry from boyhood to manhood. This is a book that grabs you in the middle and forces you to put things off in order to race to the end. But you will want to slow th ...more
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
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
Diane S ☔
Sep 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have never read this author before, not his English Patent nor saw the movie, but I loved this book. Micheal is a 11 yr. old traveling alone aboard a ship from Sri Lanka to England. He meets to other boys, also traveling alone, and are seated at the Cat's table, the table farthest away from the captains. Their adventure and tragedies as well as the people they meet will affect them all into the future. His prose is wonderful and the novel flows seamlessly from past to present, when Michael is ...more
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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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