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.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
#1 – Maclean’s Bestseller
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#1 – Globe & Mail Bestseller
A Globe and Mail Best Book
A New York Times Notable Book
LONGLIST 2013 – IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
“A tour de force....startling, enchanting.”
“Ondaatje slowly unravels a tapestry of images and dramatic (and exotic) tableaux…. [He] creates fascinating visual and sensual effects.”
“Ondaatje’s most intimate yet.... Wonderful, offering all the best pleasures of Ondaatje’s writing.”
—Globe and Mail
“Ondaatje's most accessible, compelling novel to date. It may also be his finest...A breathtaking account not only of boyhood, but of its loss....Universal in its themes, heartbreakingly so, and a journey the reader will never forget.”
—Vancouver Sun, (Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald)
“Ondaatje here fashions an entire world…. Is there a novelist who writes more compellingly about tenderness than Ondaatje?... Breathtaking.”
“A convincing and genuinely moving narrative.”
“Michael Ondaatje wows with his tale of three boys who find friendship and intrigue on a sea voyage carrying them to the brink of adulthood.”
“The mystery and magic of The Cat’s Table – and this can be said of all of Ondaatje’s writing, including his best-known novel, The English Patient (1992) – lies in its sinuous narrative weave between present, past and a future sometimes contemplated, sometimes fated, and then always inhabited…. As the latest of Ondaatje’s artful and glowing geographies and histories of the human heart, this vessel makes another, differently disposed, but related voyage across several strangely familiar seas.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“A story so enveloping and beautifully rendered, one is reluctant to disembark at the end of the journey…. Though the ocean journey in The Cat’s Table lasts a mere 21 days, it encapsulates the fullness of a lifetime.”
—Quill and Quire
“[Ondaatje] is justly recognised as a master of literary craft….As we read into The Cat’s Table the story becomes more complex, more deadly, with an increasing sense of lives twisted awry, of misplaced devotion….The novel tells of a journey from childhood to the adult world, as well as a passage from the homeland to another country…. All that was seen and experienced, is carried ashore by the passengers in memories, damaged psyches, degrees of loss, evanescent joy and reordered lives.”
—Annie Proulx, The Guardian
“No one who has read a novel or poem by Ondaatje can easily forget its powerful imagery…. His wondrous prose feels more alive to the world than ever before.”
“Three children mapping the hidden regions of a floating world – a world of displaced people, of travelers between lands…. 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.”
— The Telegraph (UK)
“Ondaatje’s great achievement is demonstrating that fiction can be stranger than truth.”
— The Spectator (UK)
“An eloquent, elegiac tribute to the game of youth and how it shapes what follows…. Sheer brilliance of characterization on show. The bit players on board The Oronsay are almost Dickensian in their eccentricity and lovability….. Ondaatje has created a beautiful and poetic study here of what it means to have your very existence metaphorically, as well as literally, at sea.”
—The Independent on Sunday (UK)
“The Cat’s Table is an exquisite example of the richness that can flourish in the gaps between fact and fiction…. 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.”
—London Evening Standard
“In a novel superbly poised between the magic of innocence and the melancholy of experience, Mr. Ondaatje probes what it means to have a cautious heart.”
“The Cat's Table shimmers with the freshness of a child's wide-eyed and openhearted perspective….a yearning tribute with an almost fairytale-like aura to the memories of awe that pervade our dreams (and nightmares and fears), and the memories of sometimes unlikely affiliation and love and what we mistake as love that pervade and haunt our hearts, guide us or sometimes lead us astray.”