Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Cat's Table -- Michael Ondaatje

In his "Afterword," Michael Ondaatje says that The Cat's Table isn't a memoir. Since he's the author, he should know. Any writer who mentions The Maltese Falcon and Warren Zevon in an afterword is okay in my book.

The Cat's Table is the story of an 11-year-old boy named Michael, who's telling it from the point of view of the adult he's become. Michael sails from Colombo, Ceylon (the setting is 1954) to England to rejoin his mother, whom he hasn't seen for several years. The trip takes 21 days, and what Michael sees, hears, and experiences will influence him for much longer. He and his two friends, Cassius and Ramadhin, are, because of their youth and social status, practically invisible to the other passengers except for those who sit with them at the Cat's Table, the one as far as it's possible to get from the Captain's Table.

The boys have the free run of the ship, as long as they don't get caught. The see the mysterious prisoner, who's brought on deck in chains only in the middle of the night. They smuggle a dog on board. Michael assists a thief. They dine in a strange garden in the bowels of the ship.

Toward the end of the novel there are a couple of flash-forwards to the near present, as well as a long letter from one of the passengers. The last third has a good deal of melodrama. I like melodrama.

The Cat's Table is an Amazon bestseller, though not on the NYT list as yet. It has an odd, almost dreamlike quality that's probably not for everyone, but it's a nice change of pace from my usual reading.


Anonymous said...

I put it on reserve. Thanks.


Timothy Hallinan said...

Bill, I loved this book. One of the best I've read in a few years, and the tone is sheer magic.

Have you read John Sayles' A MOMENT IN THE SUN? Jeez.

Bill Crider said...

Yeah, this is a good one. I haven't read Sayles' novel. Seems as if I should.