Catalogue


The cat's table /
Michael Ondaatje.
edition
1st Vintage International edition.
imprint
New York : Vintage International, 2012, c2011
description
269 p. ; 21 cm
ISBN
0307744418 (Paper), 9780307744418 (Paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Vintage International, 2012, c2011
isbn
0307744418 (Paper)
9780307744418 (Paper)
catalogue key
8834097
 
Purchase; DSO; 2013; RB308981.
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, USA, 2011 : Nominated
First Chapter
THE CAT’S TABLE by Michael Ondaatje
 
He wasn’t talking. He was looking from the window of the car all the way. Two adults in the front seat spoke quietly under their breath. He could have listened if he wanted to, but he didn’t. For a while, at the section of the road where the river sometimes flooded, he could hear the spray of water at the wheels. They entered the Fort and the car slipped silently past the post office building and the clock tower. At this hour of the night there was barely any traffic in Colombo. They drove out along Reclamation Road, passed St. Anthony’s Church, and after that he saw the last of the food stalls, each lit with a single bulb. Then they entered a vast open space that was the harbour, with only a string of lights in the distance along the pier. He got out and stood by the warmth of the car.

He could hear the stray dogs that lived on the quays barking out of the darkness. Nearly everything around him was invisible, save for what could be seen under the spray of a few sulphur lanterns—watersiders pulling a procession of baggage wagons, some families huddled together. They were all beginning to walk towards the ship.

He was eleven years old that night when, green as he could be about the world, he climbed aboard the first and only ship of his life. It felt as if a city had been added to the coast, better lit than any town or village. He went up the gangplank, watching only the path of his feet—nothing ahead of him existed—and continued till he faced the dark harbour and sea. There were outlines of other ships farther out, beginning to turn on lights. He stood alone, smelling everything, then came back through the noise and the crowd to the side that faced land. A yellow glow over the city. Already it felt there was a wall between him and what took place there. Stewards began handing out food and cor- dials. He ate several sandwiches, and after that he made his way down to his cabin, undressed, and slipped into the narrow bunk. He’d never slept under a blanket before, save once in Nuwara Eliya. He was wide awake. The cabin was below the level of the waves, so there was no porthole. He found a switch beside the bed and when he pressed it his head and pillow were suddenly lit by a cone of light.

He did not go back up on deck for a last look, or to wave at his relatives who had brought him to the harbour. He could hear singing and imagined the slow and then eager parting of families taking place in the thrilling night air. I do not know, even now, why he chose this solitude. Had whoever brought him onto the Oronsay already left? In films people tear themselves away from one another weeping, and the ship separates from land while the departed hold on to those disappearing faces until all distinction is lost.
I try to imagine who the boy on the ship was. Perhaps a sense of self is not even there in his nervous stillness in the narrow bunk, in this green grasshopper or little cricket, as if he has been smuggled away accidentally, with no knowledge of the act, into the future.
 
He woke up, hearing passengers running along the corridor. So he got back into his clothes and left the cabin. Something was happening. Drunken yells filled the night, shouted down by officials. In the middle of B Deck, sailors were attempting to grab hold of the harbour pilot. Having guided the ship meticulously out of the harbour (there were many routes to be avoided because of submerged wrecks and an earlier breakwater), he had gone on to have too many drinks to celebrate his achievement. Now, apparently, he simply did not wish to leave. Not just yet. Perhaps another hour or two with the ship. But the Oronsay was eager to depart on the stroke of midnight and the pilot’s tug waited at the waterline. The crew had been struggling to force him down the rope ladder, however as there was a danger of his falling to his death, they were now capturing him fishlike in a net, and in this way they lowered him down safely. It seemed to be in no way an embarrassment to the man, but the episode clearly was to the officials of the Orient Line who were on the bridge, furious in their white uniforms. The passengers cheered as the tug broke away. Then there was the sound of the two-stroke and the pilot’s weary singing as the tug disappeared into the night.
 
What had there been before such a ship in my life? A dugout canoe on a river journey? A launch in Trincomalee harbour? There were always fishing boats on our horizon. But I could never have imagined the grandeur of this castle that was to cross the sea. The longest journeys I had made were car rides to Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains, or the train to Jaffna, which we boarded at seven a.m. and disembarked from in the late afternoon. We made that journey with our egg sandwiches, some thalagulies, a pack of cards, and a small Boy’s Own adventure.

But now it had been arranged I would be travelling to England by ship, and that I would be making the journey alone. No mention was made that this might be an unusual experience or that it could be exciting or dangerous, so I did not approach it with any joy or fear. I was not forewarned that the ship would have seven levels, hold more than six hundred people including a captain, nine cooks, engineers, a veterinarian, and that it would contain a small jail and chlorinated pools that would actually sail with us over two oceans. The departure date was marked casually on the calendar by my aunt, who had notified the school that I would be leaving at the end of the term. The fact of my being at sea for twenty-one days was spoken of as having not much significance, so I was surprised my relatives were even bothering to accompany me to the harbour. I had assumed I would be taking a bus by myself and then change onto another at Borella Junction.

There had been just one attempt to introduce me to the situation of the journey. A lady named Flavia Prins, whose husband knew my uncle, turned out to be making the same journey and was invited to tea one afternoon to meet with me. She would be travelling in First Class but promised to keep an eye on me. I shook her hand carefully, as it was covered with rings and bangles, and she then turned away to continue the conversation I had interrupted. I spent most of the hour listening to a few uncles and counting how many of the trimmed sandwiches they ate.

On my last day, I found an empty school examination booklet, a pencil, a pencil sharpener, a traced map of the world, and put them into my small suitcase. I went outside and said good-bye to the generator, and dug up the pieces of the radio I had once taken apart and, being unable to put them back together, had buried under the lawn. I said good-bye to Narayan, and good-bye to Gunepala.

As I got into the car, it was explained to me that after I’d crossed the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, and gone through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, I would arrive one morning on a small pier in England and my mother would meet me there. It was not the magic or the scale of the journey that was of concern to me, but that detail of how my mother could know when exactly I would arrive in that other country.

And if she would be there.
 
I heard a note being slipped under my door. It assigned me to Table 76 for all my meals. The other bunk had not been slept in. I dressed and went out. I was not used to stairs and climbed them warily.

In the dining room there were nine people at Table 76, and that included two other boys roughly my age.

“We seem to be at the cat’s table,” the woman called Miss Lasqueti said. “We’re in the least privileged place.”

It was clear we were located far from the Captain’s Table, which was at the opposite end of the dining room. One of the two boys at our table was named Ramadhin, and the other was called Cassius. The first was quiet, the other looked scornful, and we ignored one another, although I recognized Cassius. I had gone to the same school, where, even though he was a year older than I was, I knew much about him. He had been notorious and was even expelled for a term. I was sure it was going to take a long time before we spoke. But what was good about our table was that there seemed to be several interesting adults. We had a botanist, and a tailor who owned a shop up in Kandy. Most exciting of all, we had a pianist who cheerfully claimed to have “hit the skids.”


From the Hardcover edition.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2012-01-30:
It only adds to the autobiographical nature of Ondaatje's novel-concerning a young boy who journeys by ship from Sri Lanka to England in the 1950s-that the author narrates this audio edition of his latest work. The mellifluous tones of Ondaatje's accent (part British and part subcontinental) are themselves testament to the memoiristic underpinnings of his novel. He reads without a professional's preciseness, and yet, knowing his work as well as he does, captures the subtle music of its understated prose. Listeners will relish Ondaatje's occasional variations from traditional British pronunciation, each one serving as a symbol of the book itself, which spans two continents and two eras. Listening to Ondaatje read becomes a pleasure in its own right; being neither here nor there, the author is himself much like the tale he tells, and the boy at its heart. A Knopf hardcover. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Appeared in Library Journal on 2012-02-15:
In Booker Prize-winning Ondaatje's latest novel, 11-year-old Michael is put aboard a ship traveling from Sri Lanka to England in the 1950s. Ostensibly under the supervision of a relative, he in fact is on his own to roam with the young companions he meets at the "cat's table," the table farthest from the captain in the dining room. He and two other unsupervised boys have the run of the craft, where many unexplained and exotic things take place. Ultimately, they learn the hard way that their seemingly innocent actions have unintended consequences. VERDICT Ondaatje does an excellent job of narrating; his reading is polished, using the first-person narrative very effectively. Recommended for the author's fans and for literary fiction readers. ["Ondaatje turns in a quietly enthralling work. Highly recommended," read the starred review of the New York Times best-selling Knopf hc, LJ 7/11.-Ed.]-Mary Knapp, Madison P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
Review Quotes
" The Cat's Tableis just as skillfully wrought as Ondaatje's magnum opus The English Patient, but its picaresque childhood adventure gives it a special power and intimacy . . . He is a master at creating characters, whom he chooses to present, memorably, as individuals. This choice is of a piece with the freshness and originality that are the hallmarks of The Cat's Table." - Wall Street Journal "A joy and a lark to read . . . Within a few pages of the book's opening, The Cat's Tablehas done a miraculous thing-it has ceased to be a book, or even a piece of art. It is merely a story, unfolding before the reader's eyes, its churning motor a mystery about what it is exactly that happened on this boat . . . Told in short bursts of exposition so beautiful one actually feels the urge to slow the reading down, the novel shows us how the boy assembles the man." - Boston Globe " The Cat's Tableis an exquisite example of the richness that can flourish in the gaps between fact and fiction . . . Ondaatje has an eerily precise grasp of the immediacy of a child's world view, and an extraordinary sense of individual destiny . . . It is an adventure story, it is a meditation on power, memory, art, childhood, love and loss. It displays a technique so formidable as to seem almost playful. It is one of those rare books that one could reread an infinite number of times, and always find something new within its pages." - Evening Standard(UK) "This book is wonderful, offering all the best pleasures of Ondaatje's writing: his musical prose, up-tempo; his ear for absurd, almost surreal dialogue, which had me laughing out loud in public as I read; his admiration for craftsmanship and specialized language in the sciences and the trades; and his sumptuous evocations of sensual delight . . .In many ways, this book is Ondaatje's most intimate yet." - Globe and Mail(Canada) "A treasure chest of escapades from a pitch-perfect writer, an immaculate observer of the dance of humans, giving us an intoxicating mix of tenderly rendered boy's eye perspective and the musings of the older narrator looking back on this intensely formative voyage . . . It is a classic, perfect premise for a novel packed with possibilities. Put it in the hands of one of the most subtle and surprising masters of world writing, Michael Ondaatje, and unalloyed joy lies latent in every sentence and sensuous quirk of the narrative. This is simply blissful storytelling . . . Think the seafaring Joseph Conrad, with an invigorating infusion of Treasure Island,a touch of Mark Twain." - The Scotsman(UK) "Ondaatje's best novel since his Booker Prizewinning The English Patient. . . [An] air of the meta adds a gorgeous, modern twist to the timeless story of boys having an awfully big adventure . . . As always, Ondaatje's prose is lyrical, but here it is tempered; the result is clean and full of grace." - Publishers Weekly(starred) "A graceful, closely observed novel that blends coming-of-age tropes with a Conradian sea voyage . . . Beautifully detailed, without a false note: It is easy to imagine, in Ondaatje's hands, being a passenger in the golden age of transoceanic voyaging, amid a sea of cocktail glasses and overflowing ashtrays, if in this case a setting more worthy of John le Carré than Noel Coward . . . Elegiac, mature, and nostalgic-a fine evocation of childhood, and of days irretrievably past." - Kirkus Reviews(starred) "Ondaatje is justly recognized as a master of literary craft . . . The novel tells of a journey from childhood to the adult world, as well as a passage from the homeland to another country, something of a Dantean experience." -Annie Proulx, The Guardian(UK) "Ondaatje's wondrous prose feels more alive to the world than ever before . . . This is a simpler story, more simply told, than Ondaatje has accustomed his readers to . . . Yet The Cat's Tableis no less thrilling in its attempts to capture beauty in its various and terrifying forms." - Financial Times(UK) "Richly enjoyable, often very funny, and gleams like a really smart liner on a sunny day . . . The magic of this fine book is in the strange inventiveness of its episodes. Ondaatje is really the master of incident in the novel, and the enchantments wash over the reader in waves . . . The beauty of Ondaatje's writing is in its swift accuracy; it sings with the simple precision of the gaze." - Daily Telegraph(UK) " The Cat's Tableis Ondaatje's most accessible, most compelling novel to date. It may also be his finest . . . Ondaatje's prose is, as always, stunning . . . The Cat's Tableis a breathtaking account not only of boyhood, but of its loss. It is a novel filled with utterly unique characters and situations, but universal in its themes, heartbreakingly so, and a journey the reader will never forget." - Vancouver Sun(Canada) "An eloquent, elegiac tribute to the game of youth and how it shapes what follows . . . One of the strengths of the novel is the sheer brilliance of characterization on show. The bit players on board the Oronsay are almost Dickensian in their eccentricity and lovability . . . In The Cat's Table,he has not only captured with acute precision the precarious balance of his characters' existence on the move but also the battle that adults wage for the retention of the awe and wonder they once took for granted in their childhood. Ultimately, Ondaatje has created a beautiful and poetic study hre of what it means to have your very existence metaphorically, as well as literally, all at sea." - Independent on Sunday(UK) "A novel superbly poised between the magic of innocence and the melancholy of experience." - Economist(UK) "Is there a novelist who writes more compellingly about tenderness than Ondaatje? . . . The Cat's Tableis a voyage of discovery for the reader as well as for its narrator. I loved the book, was dazzled by its language, and looked forward to turning each page to learn what would happen next." - Montreal Gazette(Canada) " The Cat's Tabledeserves to be recognized for the beauty and poetry of its writing: pages that lull you with their carefully constructed rhythm, sailing you effortlessly from chapter to chapter and leaving you bereft when forced to disembark at the novel's end." - Sunday Telegraph(UK) "So enveloping and beautifully rendered, one is reluctant to disembark at the end of the journey . . . The best novels and poetry possess a kind of bottomlessness: each time a reader revisits a masterful work, she finds something new. Though the ocean journey in The Cat's Tablelasts a mere 21 days, it encapsulates the fullness of a lifetime. This reader will undoubtedly return to it and unearth new treasures from its depths." ­ - Quill and Quire(Canada) From the Hardcover edition.
"Wondrous. . . . A new form of literary magic." - The San Francisco Chronicle "Mesmerizing. . . . As he did in his great novel, The English Patient,Ondaatje conjures images that pull strangers into the vivid rooms of his imagination, their detail illumined by his words." - The New York Times Book Review "Lithe and quietly profound: a tale about the magic of adolescence and the passing strangers who help tip us into adulthood in ways we don't become aware of until much later." - The Washington Post "Enthralling and poignant. . . . A captivating reminder that it can take decades to comprehend the past, let alone to make amends with it." - The Seattle Times "To capture truly any moment of life is an achievement of art. To find captured, in a single work, such disparate experiences-of youth and age, of action and reflection, of innocence and experience-is a rare pleasure. If each of Ondaatje's novels is like a new flower, then this one smells particularly sweet." -Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books "For my money, Michael Ondaatje is the greatest living writer in the English language. . . . The wide-eyed love of the world and its wonders, the kindness he offers to his characters and readers, the elegant lyricism of his sentences, the joy of storytelling-all that is great in his other books is fully present in The Cat's Table. . . . Mr. Ondaatje restores belief in the beauty and power of literature and, by extension, of humanity. In this dark, terrible world, The Cat's Tablehas healing powers." -Aleksandar Hemon, WSJ.com "Ondaatje teaches us that the most marvelous sights are those most often overlooked. It''s a lesson that turns this supple story, like the meals at the cat''s table, into a feast." - Los Angeles Times "A lovely, shimmering book. . . . Ondaatje succeeds so well in capturing the anticipation and inquisitiveness of boyhood." -Janet Maslin, The New York Times "A great master may have written his finest book in a long career of fine books." -Alan Heathcock, Salon "Ondaatje brings all his literary trademarks to The Cat's Table, from luminous prose to an amazing sense of economy. He makes every character, image and line resonate like a tuning fork. . . . Elegant and elegiac, The Cat's Tableis the author's most intimate work." - The Miami Herald "Michael Ondaatje has written some of the most inimitable works in the English langua≥ The Cat''s Tableyet again dignifies literature in every important way possible. This novel is a completely original orchestration of a coming-of-age story, memoir, maritime adventure as powerful as Conrad or Stevenson. The lyricism of the prose is astonishing." -Howard Norman, The Globe and Mail(Toronto) "A gorgeous piece of writing. . . . Ondaatje has always been capable of conjuring up mesmerizing images to draw in a reader, but with The Cat's Table he holds back just enough so the lyricism doesn't overwhelm the story." - The Christian Science Monitor "A joy and a lark to read. . . . . The Cat's Tableexpertly strums the cords of autobiography without overdoing it. As a result [the book] vibrates with the borrowed intimacy of real life." - The Boston Globe "Masterful. . . . Haunting and seductive." - The Philadelphia Inquirer "Elegant and beautiful . . . As in Anil's Ghost, The Cat's Tableemploys a deceptively light touch, hiding a carefully constructed and tender hymn to the enigma of journey." - The Independent(London) " The Cat's Tableis just as skillfully wrought as Ondaatje's magnum opus [ The English Patient], but its picaresque childhood adventure gives it a special power and intimacy. . . . He is a master at creating characters, whom he chooses to present, memorably, as individuals. This choice is of a piece with the freshness and originality that are the hallmarks of The Cat's Table." -The Wall Street Journal "Impressive. . . . Wonderful. . . . The beauty of Ondaatje's writing is in its swift accuracy; it sings with the simple precision of the gaze. . . . Richly enjoyable, often very funny,and gleams like a really smart liner on a sunny day." -Philip Hensher, The Daily Telegraph(London) "Ondaajte couldn't write a banal sentence if he tried. . . . . On its surface, The Cat's Table may be a magically real reworking of a classic boy's adventure tale. Deep down, it has the poignancy of a life's summation." -Pico Iyer, Time "Mr. Ondaatje's greatest talents lie in simply constructed, minimalist descriptions. His images are so meticulously created that the most obvious statements present themselves as sublime realizations. He doesn't disappoint." - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "Ondaatje is justly recognized as a master of literary craft. . . . The novel tells of a journey from childhood to the adult world, as well as a passage from the homeland to another country, something of a Dantean experience." -Annie Proulx, The Guardian(UK) "Michael Ondaatje never writes the same book twice [though] what remains constant is precise, luminous language. . . . Ondaatje's vision, though dark, is unfailingly generous and humane." - The Oregonian "Elegant, evocative. . . . Whatever its autobiographical roots, there's a strong sense that this story-one with echoes of Conrad and Kipling-is a tale Michael Ondaatje someday was destined to tell. It's a pleasure for us, his readers, to share in that telling." -Bookreporter.com "[Ondaatje's] sentences have a sonorous capacity, a soft but urgent tone that coaxes rather than demands attention. Acrobatics are eschewed for a supple, precise flexibility. It''s a gift shared by other English-language writers who spent significant time surrounded by diverse tongues: E.M. Forster, for example, and Graham Greene." - The Denver Post
This item was reviewed in:
Guardian UK, July 2012
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Summaries
Main Description
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the "cat's table"-as far from the Captain's Table as can be-with a ragtag group of "insignificant" adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: they are first exposed to the magical worlds of jazz, women, and literature by their eccentric fellow travelers, and together they spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. By turns poignant and electrifying, The Cat's Tableis a spellbinding story about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood, and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.
Main Description
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the "cat's table" - as far from the Captain's Table as can be - with a ragtag group of "insignificant" adults 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 tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: one man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator's elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself "with a distant eye" for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another Cat's Table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy' adult years, it tells a spellbinding story - by turns poignant and electrifying - about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.
Main Description
As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of a ship bound for England and the boy's adult years, it tells a spellbinding story about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

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