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The effect of such sharp language is powerfully visceral: as Mr.

Ondaatje Magic One More Time: The Cat's Table

Beginning with concrete images, the narrator inevitably progresses into imagination as the three boys adopt the role of detectives. Mazappa——the entertaining pianist——disappears at Port Said, supposedly, because of his adulterous relationship with Miss Lasqueti. Each tale is ambiguous, and their details are obfuscated, but this lack of clarity appropriately reflects the experience of the prepubescent investigators. The boys can gather details and pieces of evidence, but their misunderstandings of adult interaction leave their interpretations shadowy and even bizarre.

The experiences of the child, told from an aged perspective, means that the boundaries between memory and imagination, between reality and youthful creativity, are often blurred. This transient connection is poignant and, indeed, riveting. Moments like these transform the novel into a poetic voyage of self-discovery. He writes beautifully on the visual and emotional fronts. He structures long works creatively and I'm still trying to decide how well this one works for me. The Cat's Table is, primarily, a story of a three-week voyage by ship, from Colombo to London.

Its focus is on three unrelated and un It's a four-star book with five stars. Its focus is on three unrelated and unsupervised boys and their interactions with fellow travelers, especially those assigned to their low-profile dinner table. It's a bit of exotica and bildungsroman with flashes into the future to see how these characters fare or have been effected by events along the voyage. I think the structure lessens the emotional impact a bit, but I'll keep thinking on it for a while.

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Sometimes a really excellent book will have characters that come back to the front of my mind over the course of years. I can almost imagine the ship and the lights of the Suez Canal at night coming back to me, but not the characters. So, five stars? If you are an author who wants to evoke a powerful emotional response, there are some easy paths to this: rape, torture, abuse of children or other innocents, messy divorces, cancer, etc. Some of these things are fairly common in our lives, some much less so.

All can be used for shock value and as a foil for characters to be tested, to explain their growth or diminishing. As a reader, often but not exclusively, of what passes as serious literature I want to read short lists for the Booker and Tournament of Books selections and Pulitzers and National Book awards I want to see what an author can say about life without resorting to these easy obstacles.

Being wiped out in a drug deal gone bad is not particularly enlightening. I am shocked but not improved in any way from the depiction of a brutal rape either from the victim's or the aggressor's point-of-view.


What is particular bothersome is that these shortcuts are more frequently becoming the path toward critical acclaim and awards. So, in some categories of literature, I'm taking away a star or more for authors that require this little bit of shock value to propel their characters or add weight to their writing. Likewise, I'll add a star to authors that can get by without it. Ondaatje has written beautifully and thoughtfully about humanity enlarged by events and gets one rape-free star bonus point.

View all 5 comments. No one writes poetic prose like Michael Ondaatje. But his gorgeous, sensuous language and piercing insights into the human condition sometimes impede the flow of his latest novel. The Cat's Table takes place on a ship called the Oronsay in the early s, heading from Sri Lanka then Ceylon to England, where Michael we'll get to that name later , the year-old narrator, is heading to live with his estranged mother.

The title refers to the dining table for the ship's misfits, who include the n No one writes poetic prose like Michael Ondaatje. The title refers to the dining table for the ship's misfits, who include the narrator, two other preadolescent boys and a handful of single adults.

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Far removed from the first-class passengers and captain's table, they're far more interesting to a burgeoning writer like the narrator. Mazappa, one of the ship's musicians, shares exotic stories of Gay Paree, and Mr. Daniels maintains a lush garden in the bowels of the ship. Also capturing everyone's imagination is a mysterious prisoner who's led out for a nightly walk.

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And then there's Michael's beautiful older cousin Emily, whose life will connect with the others' in unpredictable ways. Obviously, there are bits of autobiography here, from the narrator's name to the fact that the author took a similar journey on a ship called the Oronsay in the same era. The young Michael learns about social hierarchies and the power of storytelling, and Ondaatje gives us another perspective later in the book when the narrator, now a successful writer living in Canada, ponders the mysteries of what happened during the trip.

But is it a memoir? A novel? It seems like some unsatisfying hybrid that never really soars. The sentences themselves are thrilling, though. Ondaatje lets you see the meaning in how a young woman adjusts the strap on her dress or how someone catching his reflection in a mirror may suddenly see himself move from boyhood to youth. Starting out, the book seems like a grand adventure reminiscent of something by Kipling or Conrad but with a more knowing take on colonialism and class.

Alas, the pieces never come together into something as fluid and magical as The English Patient or Anil's Ghost or as funny and touching as his actual memoir, Running In The Family. View all 16 comments. Jan 21, Fionnuala added it Shelves: 21st-century-favourites. Finishing a book and feeling compelled to turn to the first page again to reread it is not something I do a lot but The Cat's Table is just such a book. The writing is quietly beautiful and the description of the long vanished world of a 's trip on an ocean liner is perfect.

The reread offers extra insights into that world and underlines the complexity of Ondaatje's story telling. There are many hints of the events to come but they remain quite subtle, not at all menacing. In fact the dramat Finishing a book and feeling compelled to turn to the first page again to reread it is not something I do a lot but The Cat's Table is just such a book. In fact the dramatic events which enfold are always secondary to the descriptions of the passengers and the slices of their lives which we are offered so compellingly.

In any case, Ondaatje doesn't really bother too much with tying up the loose ends of the plot - he leaves some things to our imagination.

View all 27 comments. Sep 19, Cynthia rated it really liked it Shelves: books-read-in A Trip through the Liminal It's hard to imagine today but in Michael, who was eleven years old, traveled by ship from his native Sri Lanka to England with virtually no adult supervision. There was a vast distance between steerage, where Michael berthed, and first class. In steerage he mixed with the crew, an odd assortment of A Trip through the Liminal It's hard to imagine today but in Michael, who was eleven years old, traveled by ship from his native Sri Lanka to England with virtually no adult supervision.

In steerage he mixed with the crew, an odd assortment of academics and even some criminals. Anything could happen in these nether regions. The worst that could happen in first class was gossip over cards. The cat's table was the designation for the lowliest table set furthest away from the glitter of the captain's seating. Michael's new friends were as unfettered as he was and they roamed the boat freely spying on their fellow passengers and watching the ever changing and amazing scenery pass by.

THE CAT'S TABLE by Michael Ondaatje | Kirkus Reviews

There was a criminal in chains on board whose guards led him out during the late evening hours. The boys hid in lifeboats and watched as he walked in chains around the deck. They speculated what horrible crime he'd committed since no one seemed to know any facts. Michael shortly cavorted with an onboard thief who enlisted him to help steal.

Emily, Michael's beautiful and wild seventeen year old and much admired cousin, puts an end to this when she realizes what he's doing. In short the boys have the adventure of their young lives. On landing in England and reuniting with his mother, Michael quickly merges into his new life but stays in touch with Cassius.