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4 of 5
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list price: $32
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
category: Fiction
published: Aug 2011
ISBN:9780771068645

The Cat's Table

by Michael Ondaatje

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literary
4 of 5
1 rating
rated!
rated!
list price: $32
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
category: Fiction
published: Aug 2011
ISBN:9780771068645
Description

From Michael Ondaatje: an electrifying new novel, by turns thrilling and deeply moving -- one of his most vividly rendered and compelling works of fiction to date.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly "Cat's Table" with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. At night they spy on a shackled prisoner -- his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.

Looking back from deep within adulthood, and gradually moving back and forth from the decks and holds of the ship to the years that follow the narrator unfolds a spellbinding and layered tale about the magical, often forbidden discoveries of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding, about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a sea voyage.

Contributor Notes

MICHAEL ONDAATJE is the author of novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and eleven books of poetry. His novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize; another of his novels, Anil's Ghost, won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Medicis.

Awards
  • , IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • Short-listed, Los Angeles Times Book Prizes
  • , Scotiabank Giller Prize
Editorial Review

#1 – Maclean’s Bestseller
#1 – Globe & Mail Bestseller
A Globe and Mail Best Book 
A New York Times Notable Book
LONGLIST 2013 – IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

“A tour de force....startling, enchanting.”
Maclean's
 
 “Ondaatje slowly unravels a tapestry of images and dramatic (and exotic) tableaux…. [He] creates fascinating visual and sensual effects.”
Toronto Star
 
“Ondaatje’s most intimate yet.... Wonderful, offering all the best pleasures of Ondaatje’s writing.”
Globe and Mail
 
“Ondaatje's most accessible, compelling novel to date.  It may also be his finest...A breathtaking account not only of boyhood, but of its loss....Universal in its themes, heartbreakingly so, and a journey the reader will never forget.”
Vancouver Sun, (Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald)
 
“Ondaatje here fashions an entire world…. Is there a novelist who writes more compellingly about tenderness than Ondaatje?... Breathtaking.”
Montreal Gazette
 
“A convincing and genuinely moving narrative.”
National Post
 
“Michael Ondaatje wows with his tale of three boys who find friendship and intrigue on a sea voyage carrying them to the brink of adulthood.”
Chatelaine

“The mystery and magic of The Cat’s Table – and this can be said of all of Ondaatje’s writing, including his best-known novel, The English Patient (1992) – lies in its sinuous narrative weave between present, past and a future sometimes contemplated, sometimes fated, and then always inhabited…. As the latest of Ondaatje’s artful and glowing geographies and histories of the human heart, this vessel makes another, differently disposed, but related voyage across several strangely familiar seas.”
Winnipeg Free Press

 “A story so enveloping and beautifully rendered, one is reluctant to disembark at the end of the journey….  Though the ocean journey in The Cat’s Table lasts a mere 21 days, it encapsulates the fullness of a lifetime.”
Quill and Quire

“[Ondaatje] is justly recognised as a master of literary craft….As we read into The Cat’s Table the story becomes more complex, more deadly, with an increasing sense of lives twisted awry, of misplaced devotion….The novel tells of a journey from childhood to the adult world, as well as a passage from the homeland to another country…. All that was seen and experienced, is carried ashore by the passengers in memories, damaged psyches, degrees of loss, evanescent joy and reordered lives.”
—Annie Proulx, The Guardian

“No one who has read a novel or poem by Ondaatje can easily forget its powerful imagery…. His wondrous prose feels more alive to the world than ever before.”
Financial Times
 
“Three children mapping the hidden regions of a floating world – a world of displaced people, of travelers between lands…. The Cat’s Table deserves to be recognized for the beauty and poetry of its writing: pages that lull you with their carefully constructed rhythm, sailing you effortlessly from chapter to chapter and leaving you bereft when forced to disembark at the novel’s end.”
The Telegraph (UK)
 
“Ondaatje’s great achievement is demonstrating that fiction can be stranger than truth.”
The Spectator (UK)
 
“An eloquent, elegiac tribute to the game of youth and how it shapes what follows…. Sheer brilliance of characterization on show. The bit players on board The Oronsay are almost Dickensian in their eccentricity and lovability….. Ondaatje has created a beautiful and poetic study here of what it means to have your very existence metaphorically, as well as literally, at sea.”
The Independent on Sunday (UK)
 
The Cat’s Table is an exquisite example of the richness that can   flourish in the gaps between fact and fiction…. It is an adventure story, it is a meditation on power, memory, art, childhood, love and loss. It displays a technique so formidable as to seem almost playful. It is one of those rare books that one could reread an infinite number of times, and always find something new within its pages.”
London Evening Standard

“In a novel superbly poised between the magic of innocence and the melancholy of experience, Mr. Ondaatje probes what it means to have a cautious heart.”
The Economist
 
The Cat's Table shimmers with the freshness of a child's wide-eyed and openhearted perspective….a yearning tribute with an almost fairytale-like aura to the memories of awe that pervade our dreams (and nightmares and fears), and the memories of sometimes unlikely affiliation and love and what we mistake as love that pervade and haunt our hearts, guide us or sometimes lead us astray.”
—Bookgaga (blog)

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Reader Reviews

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The best sentence I've read all year

Is there such thing as an earworm, for text instead of music? A wordworm? If so, I have had a wordworm, off and on, since finishing The Cat’s Table. I find myself mentally rereading the end this passage compulsively:

"We stepped back, further into the darkness, and waited. I saw the man move the strap of her dress and bring his face down to her shoulder. Her head was back, looking up at the stars, if there were stars."

A quick Google search tells me I’m not alone. It’s an oft-quoted line. Blogger Jan Morrison says “If there were stars! If there were stars! If I wrote that one line, I’d be a satisfied writer. I would. It says everything.”

To me it’s a gorgeous, romantic image and a touching depiction of the narrator’s naivety giving way to the realization that the past is not only gone, but maybe it never really was, not the way you thought. And it’s something else I can’t explain – it’s poetry, I guess.

The Cat’s Table is difficult to categorize. It’s a slim 288 pages in paperback, and the short chapters mean many pages are half blank. But a lot is packed into those pages. The story meanders between the main action on the boat as 11-year-old Michael and his friends become increasingly embroiled in various shady dealings, and adult Michael’s reflections on memory and love.

Ondaatje isn’t one for a straightforward narrative. Some of the sections – a chapter about Michael’s failing marriage, a long-lost letter from one of the tablemates – seem out of place at first, like they’re part of a different story. It was only after reading and letting it sit for a while that it all came together for me.

My advice? Lay aside your expectations and just wallow in the beauty of this book. In the meantime, I’m seriously considering buying the audiobook version, read by the author, so I can hear him say “if there were stars.”
(Originally posted on reading-in-bed.com)

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