Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Cat's Table; Michael Ondaatje

Title: The Cat's Table
Author:  Michael Ondaatje
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Random House Audio
Edition: audio
Reader: author
Source: Library
Date Completed: 12/6/2011 
Rating: 4/5
Recommend: yes

The Cat's Table led me on an enjoyable voyage from Columbo (Sri Lanka) to England, aboard the Oronsay.  The story unfolds as a man thinks back on a 21-day voyage he took as a young boy. A voyage that shaped his life. Since the author himself took a similar voyage when he was a young boy, this story is believed to be in part somewhat autobiographical.

In this story, Michael, is an 11-year old boy aboard the ship who is traveling to see his mother in England; he hasn't seen her in a number of years.  He and several other colorful, underprivileged characters are delegated to a portion of the ship referred to as "The Cat's Table", at mealtime.  The area is located as far away from the "captain's table" as possible. Michael is also referred to as Mynah, because he likes to go around and spread gossip about what he learns from other travelers aboard the ship. He is not to be pitied, for he and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin, go from one exciting adventure to another. With such antics as sneaking to the first-class deck to swim in the pool and to eat better food, the boys are always up to something.

The most impressive thing about this story for me was that while I thought I might feel sorry for these boys, I did not.  What happens to them on the journey, shapes their future lives, exposing them to individuals and experiences which teach them a lot about life and human nature. Literature, jazz, performers, a prisoner in chains, and the alluring power of women are just some of the experiences that occupied their time and opened up their minds.  It was interesting to see that even though the boys go their separate ways, what they experienced together, played a part in the men that they become.

While the beginning of the story seemed somewhat choppy and disjointed, a patient reader, or listener in my case, will be rewarded with beautiful writing, at times poetic, fully developed characters and a story that comes together in the end.  There were several beautiful passage which I can no longer recall since I was listening to the audiobook, which was read by the author who did a terrific job. The scenes were easy to visualize and a good listening experience overall.


  1. I'm glad to hear you explain the book, as I've seen it on all the 'must have' lists for Christmas, and I didn't know what to expect. Ondaatje's writing is usually beautiful, so I'm happy that this one doesn't disappoint. (Not quite sure why I have an image of the Titanic after reading your post, as I 'see' Rose's boyfriend in the film discovering all sorts of parts of the ship he's not supposed to be in. ;)

  2. Apart from being partisan and liking him for his Sri Lankan origins, this book sounds a very good read.

  3. Bellezza, I actually thought Titanic too when they referenced the Cat's Table location, but felt silly making that reference, and since the ship doesn't sink....oh well

    Mystica, I know you would enjoy this one.

  4. I tried to read one book from Ondaatje long ago, and it didn't really work for me, so I would be interested in picking this one up and seeing if it's something I would enjoy. This was a great review, and I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. I think I want to read this one. I've read just one of Ondaatje's books, Anil's Ghost, but I really enjoyed it and thought the writing was exquisite.

  6. This sounds like a great audiobook for a car trip. Whenever I am behind the wheel for long periods of time I like to envision myself somewhere else. This story would transport me for sure!

  7. I requested this one from the library. His writing is a bit choppy for me so I am not sure if I will like this one or not but the only way to know for sure is to read it.

  8. This book sounds great, from your review. I'm going to try getting my hands on this.

  9. This one sounds interesting. I don't think I read enough books with males as the lead characters. One of these days I swear I will listen to an audio book!

  10. I've never read Ondaatje - did try The English Patient years ago, but never got into it. Maybe I'll give this a try on audio...

  11. Good to know that Ondaatje does a nice job with the narration - I have THE CAT'S TABLE on my wish list, and may now look for it in audio. (and will be patient with the beginning)

  12. This came in for me at the library, but where I am not reading much at the moment I told them to give it to other people and then bring it back to me down the road... I am hoping I will enjoy it!

  13. Thanks for this review I have been seeing it around but was not sure if I wanted to read it.


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