The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
The Cat's Table is the story of an 11-year-old boy's unaccompanied voyage on an ocean liner from Ceylon to London in 1954 as told through the eyes of the 54-year-old writer the boy would grow up to be. Based loosely on the author's real-life experience, the novel features a wide cast of characters as the sea journey becomes a metaphor for life.
Reviewer: Liesl Schillinger
"Reading Michael Ondaatje’s mesmerizing new novel, “The Cat’s Table,” is like being guided, just as surely and just as magically, through the author’s lustrous visions."
Reviewer: Ron Charles
"The result is 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....And so, on the powerful waters of Ondaatje’s prose, “The Cat’s Table” finally arrives at a deeper destination than we could have anticipated when the voyage began."
Reviewer: Philip Hensher
"Though the novel looks forward to moods of analysis and regret, that juvenile enjoyment of specificities serves the writing extremely well. When we say that a novelist writes beautifully, we usually mean something about a mood of dreamy vagueness. The beauty of Ondaatje’s writing is, rather, in its swift accuracy; it sings with the simple precision of the gaze."
Reviewer: Martin Rubin
"None of this artfulness will surprise readers who remember "The English Patient" (1992). "The Cat's Table" is just as skillfully wrought as Mr. Ondaatje's magnum opus, but its picaresque childhood adventure gives it a special power and intimacy."
Reviewer: Ángel Gurría-Quintana
"This is a simpler story, more simply told, than Ondaatje has accustomed his readers to. Recalling the sea passage from a child’s perspective requires the stripping of some of the layers of poetic observation that have characterised his earlier works. Yet The Cat’s Table is no less thrilling in its attempts to capture beauty in its various and terrifying forms."
Reviewer: Troy Jollimore
"To describe the book in this way is to make it sound like an adventure story for young boys, but Ondaatje, who seems to create a new form of literary magic with each book, does something unexpected and rather wondrous with these materials, fashioning out of them a meditation on youth and age, memory and imagination, innocence and experience."
Reviewer: Claire Messud
"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."
Reviewer: Nick Owchar
"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."
Reviewer: Annie Proulx
"The Cat's Table seems at first as if it might be a picaresque novel set in a constricted space...As we read into The Cat's Table the story becomes more complex, more deadly, with an increasing sense of lives twisted awry, of misplaced devotion."
Reviewer: Sonnet L'Abbé
"I had trouble with the sudden rise to prominence of the characters that dominate the last part of the book....Still, 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 that 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."
Reviewer: E.C. McCarthy
"The most compelling thread of The Cat’s Table is this tracing of memory. Ondaatje’s grasp is firmer than in previous books; there isn’t the trademark struggle with truth that is bound to end in misery, and the unknowable is accepted with distinguished grace."
Reviewer: Janet Maslin
"“The Cat’s Table” opens in a spirit of exuberant freedom, then constricts a bit as it goes along. At the end of the book, Mr. Ondaatje supplies moments of unexpected and not really necessary denouement. This artificiality serves only to underscore how authentic the novel’s most understated insights and narrative observations have been."
Reviewer: Christian Williams
"As with Ondaatje’s The English Patient, multiple timelines are sketched in simultaneously, although the stories are numerous, often reaching only vignette length. That brevity and the playful tone threaten to make the book feel trivial, and put its climactic resolution off-key. Still, well-realized characters, tart writing, and Ondaatje’s playful self-plundering...demonstrate what earned nostalgia looks like in a time when there’s plenty of the cheap variety to go around."
Reviewer: Adam Mars-Jones
"Perhaps The Cat's Table aspires to a similar doubleness of texture and meaning, the yarn of adventure story backed with the deeper colours of adult experience, but on the level of craftsmanship it doesn't measure up."