The Cat's Table - Michael Ondaatje
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Challenges: 2012 Library Challenge, 2012 Historical Fiction Challenge
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Description: 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. (via Goodreads)
Thoughts: I really expected more out of this, but it seems that my expectations were probably a little higher, especially since my last read of his was The English Patient about 15 years ago and even then I wasn't impressed with the book because I was so lost as to what was going on that I didn't really enjoy the way that I probably should have and intended and now that I understand how he wrote the book, I probably would enjoy it more now, but this review isn't about The English Patient.
The one thing about the book that I did like is the language that Ondaatje uses in the book; while reading the book on the bus home, I got lost in the world of the ship as it traveled from Sri Lanka to England and sometimes I would forget about the whizzing scenery outside my window that I think I almost forgot my bus stop on my way to work one day! I would even sort of skip over the scenes and get lost to the point that I would wonder what had just happened and not really caring I would move on with the book. I felt that book allowed me to be encased in a world that I can only imagine and that no longer exists, especially since most people take planes when one goes from one place to the next and ship travel is only used for leisure rather than for a permanent move.
One thing I didn't like about the book was the flash forwards that occurred in the book and found them to be a bit bothersome and that they chopped up the story a little more than I wanted. Sure it may the story a little more interesting, but I felt that it detracted from the main story to the point that I became a bit annoyed with the flash-forwards, even though there were a couple that served the main story well and acted as a diversion and added to it.
And personally, despite what he says at the end of the book, I think there are some autobiographical elements that he has included in the book.
Bottom line: Overall, it is an excellent book and really quite enjoyed being transported to a time when moving involved more time than just going on a plane and in a day or two you are in a completely new environment. If you have read anything else by Ondaatje or enjoy really good literary fiction, I recommend the book, especially since the story is fairly linear and doesn't jump around a lot.
Pages for 2012: 2711