Monday, 26 September 2011

Book of the Week - Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table

I'm rather looking forward to my retirement, although I still have quite a while to go. Until then, I have to continue to fit my interest in books around the day job and unfortunately this will occasionally result in gaps in my blog, which is my rather long-winded way of apologising for the hiatus since my last book of the week. The Cat's Table is the sixth novel from Sri Lankan born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, probably best known for the Booker prize winning The English Patient, the basis of the Oscar-winning film of the same name. Ondaatje has published more poetry than prose, and like many poets who also write novels his use of language is one of the most attractive features of his writing. The Cat's Table is set on a boat sailing from Sri Lanka to Britain in 1954 and is narrated by an 11-year-old boy called Michael, events taken from the author’s own life. However, events very quickly diverge from reality.

The Cat’s Table is published in the UK by Cape. I doubt if this would be a good investment for a collector, but I recommend it as a book to read.

“In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England – a ‘castle that was to cross the sea’. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘Cat's Table’ with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, ‘bursting all over the place like freed mercury’. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner – his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.
As the narrative moves from the decks and holds of the ship and the boy’s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story about the difference between the magical openness of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding – about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage, when all on board were ‘free of the realities of the earth’.
With the ocean liner a brilliant microcosm for the floating dream of childhood, The Cat’s Table is a vivid, poignant and thrilling book, full of Ondaatje’s trademark set-pieces and breathtaking images: a story told with a child’s sense of wonder by a novelist at the very height of his powers.”

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