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The Cat's Table [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Michael Ondaatje
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 32.00
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Book Description

Aug. 30 2011
From Michael Ondaatje: an electrifying new novel, by turns thrilling and deeply moving -- one of his most vividly rendered and compelling works of fiction to date.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly "Cat's Table" with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. At night they spy on a shackled prisoner -- his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.

Looking back from deep within adulthood, and gradually moving back and forth from the decks and holds of the ship to the years that follow the narrator unfolds a spellbinding and layered tale about the magical, often forbidden discoveries of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding, about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a sea voyage.

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Review

#1 – Maclean’s Bestseller
#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.”
Maclean's
 
 “Ondaatje slowly unravels a tapestry of images and dramatic (and exotic) tableaux…. [He] creates fascinating visual and sensual effects.”
Toronto Star
 
“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.”
Montreal Gazette
 
“A convincing and genuinely moving narrative.”
National Post
 
“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.”
Chatelaine

“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.”
Financial Times
 
“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 Economist
 
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.”
—Bookgaga (blog)

About the Author

MICHAEL ONDAATJE is the author of novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and eleven books of poetry. His novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize; another of his novels, Anil's Ghost, won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Medicis.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
By Friederike Knabe TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In his new novel, The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje imagines a young boy's three-week sea voyage across the oceans, from his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to England. Surprisingly, the eleven-year-old travels alone and is, not surprisingly, allocated to the "lowly" Cat's Table, where he joins an odd assortment of adults and two other boys of similar age. In the voice of young "Michael", Ondaatje shares the boys' adventures on the ship with charming immediacy, while an older, adult "Michael" looks over his shoulder, first hardly noticeable, and later, more and more directly reflecting on his own recollections and more. Are we reading a childhood memoir of sorts, a coming-of-age story, a personal journey into the past? Are we reading fact or fiction? May be, all of it. The parallels to the author's life are easily spotted: a childhood in Ceylon, a nineteen fifties journey by ship from there to England... Other parallels to the author's life come into view in the course of the book. Also, Ondaatje suggests in the first pages: "I try to imagine who the boy on the ship was..." In the Author's Note (at the end of the book) Ondaatje is as clear and opaque as can be. If you don't want to know, don't look at the end and discover the journey as it unfolds.

Young Michael and his two new friends, Cassius and Ramadhin, become soon inseparable. They freely roam the huge ship, exploring any nook and cranny they can get into, especially during nights. Cassius is the rambunctious, Ramadhin, the cautious, more reasonable one, conscious of his "weak heart". Michael describes himself as a "follower".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... Sept. 25 2011
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I willingly admit that Michael Ondaatje's novels do not rank among my favourites; I found "The English Patient" melodramatic, "Anil's Ghost" tedious and "In The Skin of a Lion" only barely engaging. However, when a Canadian literary icon releases a new and critically acclaimed novel, I have to jump on the bandwagon so as not to miss out.

During a recent interview, Ondaatje quipped that the story line of "The Cat's Table" consists of, "A boy [Michael] getting on a boat...and getting off a boat." Fortunately, the plot develops beyond such a reduction. On a 1950s voyage from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to England, the reader meets three young boys who, free from adult guardians, find opportunities to spy, assist in burglary, smoke unknown substances, and speculate on human behavior. A slew of eccentrics join these boys at their dining table, sharing world knowledge and personal stories: a tailor, a botanist, a burned-out pianist, a retired ship junker and a mysterious spinster. A chained murderer, a deaf girl, an upper-class woman who largely neglects her role as Michael's caretaker and Michael's comely cousin complete the novel's cast of skillfully manipulated and mysterious characters. Each personality harbours secrets, which emerge both on board the Oronsay and during the flash-forwards that dominate the book's latter half.

I have always revered Ondaatje as a poet for he has an incredible ability to manipulate the intricacies of space and time. This skill shines in "The Cat's Table," producing a spare yet lucid story that engages the reader's intellect. The storyline moves fluidly while the author leaves enough unsaid for his audience to play an active role in piecing together his puzzle.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memories as fluid as an ocean Oct. 21 2011
Format:Hardcover
Michael Ondaatje's admirers await his books with patient anticipation. In return, Ondaatje crafts works such as The Cat's Table, one of those rare literary achievements that combines page-turning storytelling with perfectly shaped prose. Each word and each scene has been chosen with care, and the book comes together in a harmony of ideas, memories, and narratives.

I say narratives because The Cat's Table encompasses many stories: in its seemingly straightforward telling of a boy's 21 days on a ship bound from Sri Lanka to England, its deeply complex characters offer glimpses of chance encounters and intermingled lives. The book is a palimpsest, the story of an 11-year-old boy named Michael, told by his older self who happens to be a well-known writer, written by Michael Ondaatje, who includes a disclaimer that while he took a similar trip as a boy, this work is purely fictional. These three Michaels intersect with one another in a memory play seen through the lens of the ship. The language and reflections are mature: this is the understanding only an adult can bring when he looks back at himself years later, trying to come to grips with how the smallest of actions can ripple through many lives over many years.

The titular Cat's Table is the opposite of the Captain's Table, the least prestigious spot in the dining room. The characters who gather around it pass through young Michael's shipbound existence, from his two contemporaries who raise hell with him all over the ship to the adults at the table. You get the sense that an entire novel could be devoted to any one of these subsidiary characters, even though they figure in only small ways in Michael's story.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Travel experience of a young boy
The era of traveling on a ship for a long distance to go home to a family he barely new was interesting and showed how adventuresome young boys can be when they are left on their... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Fred Rankine
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey into manhood
I loved the colourful but believable characters in this book. Ondaatje takes the tale of a young Celanese boy who boards a ship to sail to England to join the mother that he... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gaye Keep
2.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea. Disliked it.
Felt it dragged on and did not capture my attention at all. Would not recommend it at all to anyone.
Published 4 months ago by Anne Cromack
2.0 out of 5 stars Have read better books
The subject not attractive or interesting enough and the pace of story was extremely slow. I have read better books from M. Ondaatje, but this one was not what I was hoping for.
Published 6 months ago by A. Boustani
3.0 out of 5 stars A well written book
but...boring. Sorry, maybe that`s just me, but I found this book extremely slow. I am a voracious reader, and just finished a 700 page war saga that was captivating, so perhaps my... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Cheveraj
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting characters
I loved the story of Michael's voyage on the Oronsay. The characters were well-written, quirky, and believable. The story could actually have been longer... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mo Mo
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
Very rich writing and amazing descriptions. The characters come alive, and it feels like you can see what they're seeing. I ended up buying this for a couple people for Christmas.
Published 16 months ago by Alice A MacGregor
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable reading
Ondaatje is a great storyteller. I really enjoyed this book. There were couple of spots were it dragged a little but overall it was a truly enjoyable read.
Published 18 months ago by Angelgirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Colonials
A look into the exprienses of residnts of a British colony
other than Canada. A subtle study of relationships.
Cuting.and realistic.
Published 20 months ago by shea
5.0 out of 5 stars A Richly Woven Coming-of-Age Tale with Vivid Characters and Hidden...
"Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall," -- Isaiah 40:30 (NKJV)

It's easy to mistake this novel for an autobiography. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Donald Mitchell
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