Jim's Reviews > The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
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's review
Dec 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: ebooks, fiction, literature
Read in December, 2011

"I don’t think you can love me into safety." There are plenty of evocative lines and insights to be found in this latest work from the author of THE ENGLISH PATIENT, but this one--spoken platonically from one cousin to another--might be my favorite, as it goes far to sum up the character and motivations of Michael, who serves as the story's protagonist and narrator. As an 11-year-old boy at the outset of the novel, Michael is being sent alone on a 21-day trip from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to London, where he will be met by his mother. The year is 1954. During the voyage, Michael befriends two other boys his age and we experience the voyage through their eyes. The adventures, the intrigue, the relationships. The eponymous Cat's Table is essentially the lowest (socially) table of the ship's dining room--the antithesis of the Captain's Table, in other words--and the novel revolves around the group of people assigned to that table for the duration of the trip. The tales of the voyage are told in retrospect by an adult Michael and in a nonlinear fashion, which means that, from the perspective of the young boy, we get both flashbacks and flashforwards as we learn bits and pieces of the backgrounds and futures of some of the principal players accompanying Michael on the trip. And without exception, the characters are well-developed, rich, multidimensional,and interesting. At one point, Michael tells us, the readers: "It would always be strangers like them, at the various Cat's Tables of my life, who would alter me." Fans of character and character development will love this story, and there is enough action, intrigue and mystery to satisfy the rest of the reading audience, as well. All in all, a great read.
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