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Showing 11-20 of 261 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 390 reviews
on August 22, 2012
I should state up-front that this is my first Ondaatje experience in terms of reading(I did see the movie "The English Patient" and loved the story) and so perhaps I missed---of just flew by---the prose and style that so many of the 5-star reviewers picked up on, almost without exception. Clearly, Mr. Ondaatje has his legion of very loyal fans as many writers do.

But without any background or experience with his writing, I just didn't get this book. To me, it was an unspectacular tale of three young boys in a ship and a somewhat interesting mystery/plot. No more than that. I have read and seen a lot of movies about coming-of-age stories in a retrospective style. Some were outstanding and memorable, like "Stand By Me" and "To Kill a Mockingbird". This one just seemed an average such tale to me. So we were introduced to several interesting characters in a ship; so three boys befriend each other for a few days and then go on to separate lives; so we see a story unfold from their hidden eyes; so...what?

If the book had a point or something to "say", I completely missed it and that is no one's fault but mine. If Mr. Ondaatje's prose is so fantastic that so many fans read his literature as slowly as possible so they can savor every "perfectly placed" word, then that's a good thing for all of them. But for me, it just wasn't more than a breeze little story, flowingly told.

I don't give it a 3 because in my internal scale a "3" and above is a book that I enjoyed enough to recommend it to friends. I can't say I'd recommend this book to anyone asking me for "a good book".
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on May 23, 2013
This is a story about a young boy traveling on a ship from Ceylon to England. He finds himself sitting by the Cat's Table in the dining room, lowest on the rank where the Captain's Table is highest. In a sense this makes him invisible to the other guests, which gives him and his two young friends room to unnoticed observe the other passengers during nightly excursions, from lifeboats and other hideouts. The book takes the reader on a voyage on many levels, not least from boyhood to adulthood, as the events he sees and people he meets transforms him in ways that become clear to him only later when he, as an adult, writes the story down. The boy travels, as it were, in a sea of adults who are not always easy to understand for the boy. Although the author made this trip himself as a boy, and despite the main character's name being Michael, all persons and events are fictitious, even Michael. When I had read the first few chapters I thought the story felt episodic and lacking direction, but towards the end the parts were nicely woven together, as viewed over a distance of time by the adult Michael. The writing is beautiful. I will definitely look into this author's earlier works after reading this one.
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on July 26, 2015
Let me say first off that I am a huge fan of Ondaatje's work, both poetry and prose. Like his poetry, this book seems to draw on his own history more than his other fiction. Being intrigued with his background in Sri Lanka, I quickly fell into the story and was caught up in it. While it does not have the depth and impact of The English Patient or Anil's Ghost, I still enjoyed the prose, the characters, and the story.
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on April 27, 2014
Seemingly the mature reader would not be interested in the experiences of three 11 year old boys essentially on their own on a 21 day journey by ship. But this is told from the perspective of one of the three, looking back and reflecting on the major impact the journey's learnings had on his life and the lives of his two colleagues. And that is the fun of this book, so much to be learned and so many mysteries that were still being uncovered later in life. Many of these mysteries are answered, some answers are inferred and others left to the imagination. All in all, an unexpectedly intriguing novel.
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on September 8, 2013
Michael Ondaatje is one of my favorite authors. He writes prose that flows with interesting stories without boring the reader with unnecessary descriptions of nature reflecting the action. A point in fact is this book. Nature is the action, menacing a troop ship from the Second World War that is now a passenger ship.

The narrator is a boy of 11 years who is traveling alone from Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), to England. He's hoping to be met there by his mother, whom through curious circumstances he hardly knows. He immediately hooks up with two boys he knew from home, and they create havoc at all hours of the day and night, especially at night, when they hide in the life boats and ritually observe a heavily chained prisoner brought out on deck only at Midnight.

The boys are assigned to the least privileged table (at the opposite end of the dining room from the Captain's Table). The adults assigned here are of "no social importance" in the words of one lady, saying they're the "Cat's Table," Actually this diverse group (especially the boys) watch and listen very carefully, and soon they uncover unimaginable secrets and dangers, moving the story with alacrity.

Introductory words are from Joseph Conrad's "Youth": "It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea."
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on June 23, 2012
This book is fascinating in that I cannot imagine sticking a kid on a boat for a 3 week journey virtually un-escorted, even though their were adults that were supposed to check in on him...whatever.

But the characters are well drawn and engaging, but I sensed that the intrigues with the dog biting the man...to death (?)...and the intrigue with the prisoner and his mute daughter were after thoughts and I didn't sense that the prisoner was that desperate until he became desperate.

This is a minor complaint but nonetheless is a flaw I noted in this novel and in the movie, _There will be Blood_. Just because someone who already HAS speech loses their hearing doesn't mean they lose speech. If this was true, there'd be a lot of mute old people. So the idea that the daughter became mute because her hearing was damaged, those kind of minor flaws just made this feel like a an imposed after thought in the plot line.

Still, you are caught by the characters and it's a fun ride, a nice statement about how short periods in our lives can mark our lives throughout.
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on January 5, 2013
It was a little slow at first, but once you get past the first bit it's a great novel - the first I've read by Michael Ondaatje so i'm motivated to read more now. It's a great discovery book, looking through the narrator's physical and mental journey and his view of the interesting odd lot that he comes in contact with on the ship. I actually began to like the other characters more than the narrator - but I think that was the point.
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on February 12, 2012
I'll profess at the outset that I read two Ondaatje novels many years ago ("Divisadero" and "In the Skin of the Lion") and had no intention of reading another. Ondaatje is one of those novelists whom you either love or hate with his unique style and voice. After trying twice (I never judge my taste of an author on just one book), I just determined that Ondaatje's works would never appeal to me. Ultimately, I've been trying to finish reading all of Amazon's Top 10 fiction books of 2011 and "The Cat's Table" stood in my path. Ironically, I had a meeting with someone and we got to discussing our latest reads and he was raving about "The Cat's Table". I begn expressing my distaste for Ondaatje and he strongly suggested I give this novel a shot, that it was unlike the other two books I'd read and would be pleasantly surprised.

Other reviewers and Amazon have already done a great job outlining the plot of this book so rather than doing the same, I'll keep my commentary to why I ultimately was so captivated by this tale. First, I felt "The Cat's Table" was a lot more straight-forward and easier read than the other two books I read. It is after all about a seminal childhood journey of Michael, a Sri Lankan boy, moving from then Ceylon to England on the boat Oronsay. The 17 days introduce Michael to two other boys, Cassius and Ramadihm, and a myriad of other characters. "The Cat's Table" shines because of the wonderful writing that brings each of these individuals to life in such a vivid way, especially as seen through the eyes of a child. In the middle of the novel, Ondaatje fast forwards 20 years and ties up the story lines with Cassius, Ramadihm and Michael's cousin, Emily, who also was on the journey to England.

I'm quite glad I chose to read this book as it completely changed my perspective of Ondaatje as a writer. While I'm not going to profess that he'll become my favorite author, this is a wonderful book and well worth the time spent reading it.
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on September 28, 2013
I wanted to read this book for such a long time now. There was just something about it that told me it would roll me over and tie me down in its prose. It did. Some books just put themselves where it can be read because it is really that good. It is multifaceted. It is thought-provoking. It is excellent. It is one of those books you cannot walk away from easily. It has all the elements to promise that it will become a classic in time. I want to reread it. I just have to. Period. It was one of the best discoveries on Amazon. I bought it instead of the one I was looking for and I am so glad I did.
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on March 17, 2013
The story was intriguing, but it kept skipping back and forth within times and places on the ship itself in what felt like a haphazard way, let alone when there would suddenly be a section telling of incidents and people both before the boat journey and after, so that it became increasingly difficult to keep track of people and occurrences. This did not seem to be due to a specific style of writing, as I got the impression that the author had suddenly thought of something new or had realized that something had been left out, sticking in the new material regardless. It did not feel like a final draft; more care should have been taken to make the tale more coherent. Having read "Life of Pi" before the movie had come out, I felt as if "The Cat's Table" was a "PI" wannabee.
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