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9780307401427_cover Enlarge Cover View Excerpt
5 of 5
2 ratings
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list price: $22.00
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: June 2012
ISBN:9780307401427
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada

The Cat's Table

by Michael Ondaatje

reviews: 1
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literary
5 of 5
2 ratings
rated!
rated!
list price: $22.00
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: June 2012
ISBN:9780307401427
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada
Description

In the early 1950s in Ceylon an eleven-year-old boy is put alone aboard a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the insignificant "cat's table"--as far from the Captain's table as can be--with two other lone boys and a small group of strange fellow passengers: one appears to be a shadowy figure from the British Secret Service; another a mysterious thief, another seems all too familiar with the dangerous ways of women and crime. On the long sea voyage across the Indian Ocean and through the Suez Canal, the three boys rush from one wild adventure and startling discovery to another: experiencing the first stirrings of desire, spying at night on a notorious shackled prisoner, moving easily between the decks and holds of the ship. As the secretive adult world is slowly revealed, they begin to realize that a drama is unfolding on board, and the prisoner's crime and fate will be a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them and link them forever.

Contributor Notes

MICHAEL ONDAATJE is the author of five previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. The English Patient won the Booker Prize; Anil's Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.

Awards
  • Short-listed, Los Angeles Times Book Prizes
Editorial Review

"A completely original orchestration of a coming-of-age story, memoir, maritime adventure as powerful as Conrad or Stevenson.... Astonishing."
—Howard Norman, The Globe and Mail
"Ondaatje's most accessible, most compelling novel to date."
—Robert J Wiersema, The Vancouver Sun
"Michael Ondaatje is the greatest living writer in the English language.... All that is great in his other books is fully present in The Cat's Table."
—Aleksander Hemon, The Wall Street Journal (Favourite Book of 2011)

"The most beautiful, haunting and ageless book I've read this year."
—Pico Iyer, The Hindu

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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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