September 30, 2011

The Cat's Table - Michael Ondaatje

I don't know why, but I always look forward to the publication of a new Micahel Ondaatje book. I loved The English Patient when I first read it back in my university days, enjoyed In the Skin of a Lion almost as much. However with his more recent books (Anil's Ghost and Divisidaro), I have found myself wavering in my loyalty.

I think that I enjoyed The Cat's Table as much as his earlier books, and certainly more than his more recent books, but only time will tell if it is as memorable. I think that is what I didn't enjoy about Anil's Ghost and Divisidero - they were very forgettable. If you were to ask me know, I wouldn't be able to tell you what they were about.

The Cat's Table is different. I found both the plot line, the setting, and the characters to be engaging, and therefore, I hope, memorable. Michael (yes, the author has stated that this book has autobiographical tendencies) is an 11-year old passenger on a ship traveling from Sri Lanka to England in the 1950's. He is assigned to take his meals at the Cat's Table - the table farthest from the captain's table. The story revolves around his interactions with fellow passengers both at his table and from other tables; as well as the happenings at sea as they journey half way around the world.

In the second half of the book, there are some happenings from the time after Michael arrives in England interspersed with the story of the ocean journey. This was not intrusive, and the past and the future link together so that both story lines make more sense.

There is a bit of a mystery on board that Michael didn't understand as an 11 year old, and he is gradually able to piece together as an adult, as he encounters other people who had been on board the ship.

This book has made it to the longlist for the Giller Prize, and I am hoping that it makes it to the shortlist when it is announced next week.


Buried In Print said...

I "saved" this one for the last of my Giller reads, and I ended up quite enjoying it. From many comments I'd read, I wasn't expecting much of a plot-line but, as you say, the element of mystery, though not strong, is certainly interesting.

Kate said...

BiP - I just read your review, and I'm glad that you enjoyed it. It is the only one on the Giller Shortlist that I have read, but I will be cheering for it tonight!

Marsha said...

Wow, I was just browsing through your blog and looking at all the books you have read. Not sure how many I looked at but I never saw any of them before! I like to read, but I guess I need to expand my horizons a little bit. LOL!

Kate said...

Marsha - I'm not sure where you are writing from, but I tend to read a lot of Canadian books (including this one) so if you aren't in Canada they may be harder to track down. Though I highly reccommend it since I think that Canadian books are great!