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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cat’s Table

Michael Ondaatje
Knopf, 2011


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 be--with a ragtag group of "insignificant" adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: one man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator's elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself "with a distant eye" for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another Cat's Table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy's adult years, it tells 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.

All I can say is: BORING!

Okay, I lied. I can say more than that, but nothing good. I enjoyed the first bit, where the three boys are aboard the boat and their adventures. Things started getting boring about the time that the book moved back and forth in time and the narrator became more reflective about his past and his friends and his wife and well, you get the idea. There is a lot of description, which really slowed the action down --when there was action, which became less and less as the book went on. And on.

As usual, all the book reviews LOVE a book that I can’t even finish. There must be something wrong with me.


Other novels by this author:
The English Patient (1992)
Anal’s Ghost (2000)

Other titles you might enjoy:

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002)
Possessing encyclopedia-like intelligence, unusual zookeeper's son Pi Patel sets sail for America, but when the ship sinks, he escapes on a life boat and is lost at sea with a dwindling number of animals until only he and a hungry Bengal tiger remain.

Rites of Passage by William Golding (1980)
Edmund Talbot recounts his voyage from England to the Antipodes, and the humiliating confrontation between the stern Captain Anderson and the nervous parson, James Colley, which leads to the latter's death.

The Reivers by William Faulkner (1962)
Boon Hogganbeck persuades Lucius Priest, 11, to borrow his grandfather's car in 1905, and after they arrive at a bordello, the black Ned McCaslin trades the car for a horse.


  1. Oh darn! I had my hope's raised as I was reading the description and then? Bam! Thanks for your honesty! This is the kind of book that I think I SHOULD read, not only to impress others, ha!, but also to look smarter and maybe learn something! But if it's BORING, then I'm not even going to bother since I have a gazillion books on my list to read!

  2. I'm dying to read the Cats Table, it sounds adventurous and if you find people interesting then surely this book won't dissapoint. I heard Michael Ondaajte being interviewed on Elaine Charles radio show 'The Book Report' on Sunday.
    It was said that Michael's books are atmospheric and evocative of the place where the characters are.
    The Cats Table is basically where the least important people get to sit as further away from the captain as possible and possibly more near the kitchen.