Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (2011)

In 1954 eleven year old Michael boards the ship Oronsay for a three week voyage from his native Ceylon to England to be reunited with his mother. Michael and two other young boys roam the boat unsupervised in search of adventures and run into trouble and mysteries almost daily. This could be described as a coming of age novel with many autobiographical elements, but it's also about the role of memory and friendship in life. What happens to those people we meet for a period of time, who influence us, and then disappear back into their lives never, or rarely, to be seen again? How did they change us?
Sometimes this novel seems to depict the high-spirited youth of the three boys realistically. Other times, the story veers off into practically unrelated stories, flashbacks and flash-forwards - which will bother some readers. Overall, Michael as an adult, tells the story of his voyage by looking back with wonder and appreciation and sometimes regret. The mysteries of the other passengers remain unsolved for the most part. The voyage on the Oronsay and the eccentric people Michael met on board, the freedom he experienced, change him. The book is a slice of life, not a neatly wrapped story.
Recommended for readers who enjoy travel writing, memoirs, poetically written novels. If you liked Ondaatje's real memoir, 'Running in the Family', read this.

Related websites:
New York Times review of the Cat's Table
Reading Group Guides review of the Cat's Table

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