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The Cat's Table Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 4, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307700119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307700117
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (334 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #281,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2011: Michael Ondaatje's finely wrought new novel chronicles a young boy's passage from Sri Lanka to London onboard the Oronsay, both as it unfolds and in hindsight. Glancing off the author's own biography, the story follows 11-year-old Michael as he immerses himself in the hidden corners and relationships of a temporary floating world, overcoming its physical boundaries with the expanse of his imagination. The boy's companions at the so-called cat's table, where the ship’s unconnected strays dine together, become his friends and teachers, each leading him closer to the key that unlocks the Oronsay's mystery decades later. Elegantly structured and completely absorbing, The Cat's Table is a quiet masterpiece by a writer at the height of his craft. --Mia Lipman


Guest Reviewer: Abraham Verghese on The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje

One means by which I have kept track of the passage of time is by the appearance of a new Michael Ondaatje book. I’ve loved his poetry (and I still know long passages from Secular Love by heart). I love the way his books of poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction (and some of his books are hybrids that seem to be all those genres in one book) are so carefully crafted. I must have read In the Skin of a Lion 10 times, disassembling it to see how this magic alchemy came about.

You can imagine my excitement when The Cat’s Table, Ondaatje’s latest, arrived on my desk. I found myself reading aloud with a loved one, savoring, just a few pages a day that were carefully rationed. Reading aloud was a way to make every morsel last longer, have it linger on tongue and ear. I can’t think of a book I’ve read where the sense of a journey—in this case, a ship going from Ceylon to England via the Suez Canal—is so carefully mirrored in the reader’s experience. I had the sense of movement, of a big ship inching away from the shore, and of seeing one’s former life recede. At the assigned dinner table (from which the title derives), one meets fellow travelers and the brief bios they present to the world. With each passing day, the narrator finds that these constructed selves give way to something deeper, something overstated, or something dark and ominous, or at other times they modestly conceal a being that is incredibly beautiful and heroic. As the journey progresses, the many characters and the flavors each adds begin to meld together, and I had a sense of the narrative soup thickening, the pace increasing. Indeed, by the last few pages it was as though we had arrived all too soon at the bottom of a most delicious cioppino or bouillabaisse. The fleshy items were dispensed with, the shells all removed, leaving only those last few spoonfuls, and in them a wise world, a complete world, a world distilled. When it was over, I had that sense one lives for as a reader: the feeling of having discovered a truth not just about the imagined world of the novelist, but also about oneself, a truth one can now carry forth into the world, into the rest of one’s life....

Make haste to get this book, then do what I did: Fill up the tub, ration yourself to a few pages a day, read aloud, preferably to someone as crazy about Ondaatje as you are. Be disciplined. Don’t exceed your ration. It is a long voyage but it will go by too soon. So relish. Enjoy!

Abraham Verghese is the author of the internationally best-selling novel Cutting for Stone, which has been translated into 23 languages and spent over a year on the New York Times best-seller list. He is also the author of My Own Country, a 1994 NBCC Finalist and a Time Best Book of the Year, and The Tennis Partner, a New York Times Notable Book. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published essays and short stories in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Granta, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. He is currently Professor and Senior Associate Chair for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University and lives in Palo Alto, California.

Review

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)
 
“This book is wonderful, offering all the best pleasures of Ondaatje’s writing: his musical prose, up-tempo; his ear for absurd, almost surreal dialogue, which had me laughing out loud in public as I read; his admiration for craftsmanship and specialized language in the sciences and the trades; and his sumptuous evocations of sensual delight . . . In many ways, this book is Ondaatje’s most intimate yet.”
Globe and Mail (Canada)

“A treasure chest of escapades from a pitch-perfect writer, an immaculate observer of the dance of humans, giving us an intoxicating mix of tenderly rendered boy’s eye perspective and the musings of the older narrator looking back on this intensely formative voyage . . . It is a classic, perfect premise for a novel packed with possibilities. Put it in the hands of one of the most subtle and surprising masters of world writing, Michael Ondaatje, and unalloyed joy lies latent in every sentence and sensuous quirk of the narrative. This is simply blissful storytelling . . . Think the seafaring Joseph Conrad, with an invigorating infusion of Treasure Island, a touch of Mark Twain.”
The Scotsman (UK)

“Ondaatje’s best novel since his Booker Prize–winning The English Patient . . . [An] air of the meta adds a gorgeous, modern twist to the timeless story of boys having an awfully big adventure . . . As always, Ondaatje’s prose is lyrical, but here it is tempered; the result is clean and full of grace.”
Publishers Weekly (starred)
 
“A graceful, closely observed novel that blends coming-of-age tropes with a Conradian sea voyage . . . Beautifully detailed, without a false note: It is easy to imagine, in Ondaatje’s hands, being a passenger in the golden age of transoceanic voyaging, amid a sea of cocktail glasses and overflowing ashtrays, if in this case a setting more worthy of John le Carré than Noel Coward . .  . Elegiac, mature, and nostalgic—a fine evocation of childhood, and of days irretrievably past.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
 
“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)
 
“Ondaatje’s wondrous prose feels more alive to the world than ever before . . . This is a simpler story, more simply told, than Ondaatje has accustomed his readers to . . . Yet The Cat’s Table is no less thrilling in its attempts to capture beauty in its various and terrifying forms.”
Financial Times (UK)
 
“Richly enjoyable, often very funny, and gleams like a really smart liner on a sunny day . . . The magic of this fine book is in the strange inventiveness of its episodes. Ondaatje is really the master of incident in the novel, and the enchantments wash over the reader in waves . . . The beauty of Ondaatje’s writing is in its swift accuracy; it sings with the simple precision of the gaze.”
Daily Telegraph (UK)
 
The Cat’s Table is Ondaatje’s most accessible, most compelling novel to date. It may also be his finest . . . Ondaatje’s prose is, as always, stunning . . . The Cat’s Table is a breathtaking account not only of boyhood, but of its loss. It is a novel filled with utterly unique characters and situations, but universal in its themes, heartbreakingly so, and a journey the reader will never forget.”
Vancouver Sun (Canada)

“An eloquent, elegiac tribute to the game of youth and how it shapes what follows . . . One of the strengths of the novel is the sheer brilliance of characterization on show. The bit players on board the Oronsay are almost Dickensian in their eccentricity and lovability . . . In The Cat’s Table, he has not only captured with acute precision the precarious balance of his characters’ existence on the move but also the battle that adults wage for the retention of the awe and wonder they once took for granted in their childhood. Ultimately, Ondaatje has created a beautiful and poetic study hre of what it means to have your very existence metaphorically, as well as literally, all at sea.”
Independent on Sunday (UK)
 
“A novel superbly poised between the magic of innocence and the melancholy of experience.”
Economist (UK)
 
“Is there a novelist who writes more compellingly about tenderness than Ondaatje? . . . The Cat’s Table is a voyage of discovery for the reader as well as for its narrator. I loved the book, was dazzled by its language, and looked forward to turning each page to learn what would happen next.”
Montreal Gazette (Canada)
 
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)

“So enveloping and beautifully rendered, one is reluctant to disembark at the end of the journey . . . The best novels and poetry possess a kind of bottomlessness: each time a reader revisits a masterful work, she finds something new. Though the ocean journey in The Cat’s Table lasts a mere 21 days, it encapsulates the fullness of a lifetime. This reader will undoubtedly return to it and unearth new treasures from its depths.” ­ 
Quill and Quire (Canada)
 

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Customer Reviews

Enjoyed reading this book, very interesting story.
Tamara
The only reason I kept reading was the hope that something would happen that I would care about.
Fishhead
The story is interesting, the characters are well-defined and the language is beautiful.
Clownqueen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

274 of 280 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on October 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At the age of eleven, Michael boards an ocean liner bound for England. With his friends Cassius and Ramadhin, he explores the ship and befriends eccentric passengers: Mr. Fonseka, a literature teacher from Colombo who displays the "serenity and certainty" Michael has observed "only among those who have the armor of books close by"; Mr. Daniels, who has transformed a section of the hold into an exotic garden; the musician and blues fan Max Mazappa; an Australian girl who greets the dawn by roller skating fiercely around the deck; Miss Lasqueti, a woman with a surprising, hidden background who is traveling with dozens of pigeons; a hearing impaired Singhalese girl named Asuntha, and others. "Simply by being in their midst," the boys are learning about adults, including those assigned to sit with them at the low-status Cat's Table, situated at the opposite end of the dining room from the Captain's Table. Michael's other lessons include his first fleeting experience with love and desire, as well as a taste of European racism, both subtle and (particularly in the case of the ship's captain) overt.

Two other passengers Michael knows only by sight. Sir Hector de Silva, a wealthy but ill passenger in Emperor Class accommodations, has bad luck with dogs, perhaps because a spell was cast upon him. At the opposite end of the social spectrum is a prisoner, rumored to be a murderer, whose midnight strolls on the deck -- closely guarded and in chains -- the concealed boys observe with fascination.

Michael Ondaatje keeps all these characters in motion like a master juggler.
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182 of 197 people found the following review helpful By Schuyler T Wallace VINE VOICE on September 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I run hot and cold on Michael Ondaatie's writing. However, his new book, THE CAT"S TABLE, resonated in a part of my mind long ignored. In some of his other works, DIVISIDERO and THE ENGLISH PATIENT, to mention a couple, he uses many unlikely characters in the telling of his story that seem to run together with no special destination or closure. To me the books are disjointed and not very interesting or realistic. In Cat's Table, he uses the same formula but with more satisfying results. In fact, having been something of a scoundrel in my early years, the boys in this novel reawakened my early existence with their endless curiosity, mindless pranks, and earthy delight in just being boys.

I'm getting ahead of myself. As Ondaatje said, during an interview, the storyline is "A boy (Michael) gets on a boat...and gets off a boat." Fortunately, for us, the author understates the events that subsequently happen. Interest is added when we get to meet a couple of other boys and the three of them ramble unfettered around a large ship, finding opportunities to spy, to assist in burglary, smoke unknown substances, speculate on human behavior, and develop hot-blooded hormones over attractive girls. I too, at that stage of development, had similar adventures, although my spying was done through grass and brush along a small creek. I peeked through tree branches and gaps in large rocks rather than through the pipes, cables and railings found on a big ship. But I saw a lot of stuff, as these young fellows did.
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221 of 244 people found the following review helpful By bert1761 VINE VOICE on September 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
but I am not sure I "got" a lot of what was going on in this novel. While I loved the first third of the book, the last two-thirds eroded that sentiment.

"The Cat's Table" is the story of Michael, an 11-year-old who is put on a ship for a three-week voyage from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to England. Through his assignment to the "Cat's Table," he meets up with two other boys about his age and various other characters (and there are a few at other tables whom he knows or gets to know).

The first part of the novel is told exclusively from the point of view of 11-year-old Michael and it is highly entertaining and enjoyable to observe his exploits and hear his observations from them. Thereafter, the book skips forward and backward in time, so we hear from the adult Michael about things that happened to him and other characters since the trip, as well as his recounting of some of the events that took place on the ship from the vantage point of recollection, rather than observation. It is a result of this frequent change of time and perspective that I got somewhat lost in and bogged down by the book.

In addition, as the story is told by Michael, what he observes and chooses to tell us is all we really know about the other characters in the book; there is very little opportunity to observe them directly. As a result, I never really came to care much about any of the charactersin the novel. In this regard, I find it interesting to note that "The Cat's Tale" contains more characters than are in several of Michael Ondaatje's other novels COMBINED. I think this fact serves to highlight that Ondaatje is better than most authors at creating beautiful pictures and atmospheres with his words, but is not nearly as good at creating fully realized characters.
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