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Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje: A beautifully written story with a splash of mystery and danger.

The Cat's Table is a wonderful novel.   It is set primarily in the early 1950s and the majority of the action takes place on a passenger ship.  Traveling alone on this ship is an eleven-year old boy named Michael.  Michael is leaving his family in Sri Lanka to join his mother in England.  For his meals, Michael is assigned a seat at a table with nine people.  "'We seem to be at the cat's table,'" quips one of the group, "'We're in the least privileged place.'"    

This cat's table includes an interesting group of hard-to-categorize adults as well as two other boys, Ramadhin and Cassius.  The story follows the boys adventures on the ship, although the word "adventures" seems too strong a word for this gentle, insightful read.

Three elements of the book stand out:  First, it is grand to see people and events through the eyes of the boys on the ship.  Second, I like the contrast between the world of an 11-year old and later chapters in The Cat's Table where Michael is older.  Childhood looks more serene and magical; adolescence and adulthood are not that way.  Third, the adults on the ship are a wonderful collection of characters.  I particularly like Miss Lasqueti, who made the quip quoted above.  A woman of many talents, she spends her days reading mysteries in a lounge chair on the ship's deck, tossing overboard books that disappoint.  A character after my own heart.

A very enjoyable book.  The Cat's Table is recommended reading.


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