Synopses & Reviews
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a ship bound for England, and at mealtimes is seated at the "cat's table" with a ragtag group of "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: one man talks to them about jazz and women, another about literature. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner — his crime and 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 about the differences between the tender innocence of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding, and about a lifelong journey that began unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.
"In Ondaatje's best novel since his Booker Prize-winning The English Patient, an 11-year-old boy sets off on a voyage from Ceylon to London, where his mother awaits. Though Ondaatje tells us firmly in the 'Author's Note' that the story is 'pure invention,' the young boy is also called Michael, was also born in Ceylon, and also grows up to become a writer. This air of the meta adds a gorgeous, modern twist to the timeless story of boys having an awfully big adventure: young Michael meets two children of a similar age on the Oronsay, Cassius and Ramadhin, and together the threesome gets up to all kinds of mischief on the ship, with, and at the expense of, an eccentric set of passengers. But it is Michael's older, beguiling cousin, Emily, also onboard, who allows him glimpses of the man he is to become. As always, Ondaatje's prose is lyrical, but here it is tempered; the result is clean and full of grace, such as in this description of the children having lashed themselves to the deck to experience a particularly violent storm: 'our heads were stretched back to try to see how deep the bow would go on its next descent. Our screams unheard, even to each other, even to ourselves, even if the next day our throats were raw from yelling into that hallway of the sea.'" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Ondaatje is justly recognized as a master of literary craft....The novel tells of a journey from childhood to the adult world, as well as a passage from the homeland to another country, something of a Dantean experience." Annie Proulx, The Guardian (UK)
"The Cat's Table is just as skillfully wrought as Ondaatje's magnum opus The English Patient, but its picaresque childhood adventure gives it a special power and intimacy...He is a master at creating characters, whom he chooses to present, memorably, as individuals. This choice is of a piece with the freshness and originality that are the hallmarks of The Cat's Table." Wall Street Journal
"A joy and a lark to read....Within a few pages of the book's opening, The Cat's Table has done a miraculous thing it has ceased to be a book, or even a piece of art. It is merely a story, unfolding before the reader's eyes, its churning motor a mystery about what it is exactly that happened on this boat....Told in short bursts of exposition so beautiful one actually feels the urge to slow the reading down, the novel shows us how the boy assembles the man." Boston Globe
"The Cat's Table is an exquisite example of the richness that can flourish in the gaps between fact and fiction....Ondaatje has an eerily precise grasp of the immediacy of a child's world view, and an extraordinary sense of individual destiny....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." Evening Standard (UK)
"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." Sunday Telegraph (UK)
From Michael Ondaatje: a stunning new novel — by turns poignant and electrifying — about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a sea voyage.
About the Author
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, Michael Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.