The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table
Michael Ondaattje
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Jonathan Cape
Thu, 25/08/2011

It’s little surprise this novel, only the author’s third in the 20 years since The English Patient, carries a disclaimer that it is not to be taken as autobiography. Like the lead character, Ondaatje sailed from Sri Lanka to Britain as a child in the 1950s.  Here, the narrator finds a couple of friends his age, and all are as below the salt as possible, in the titular place in the ship’s dining room.

There is a host of warm, engaging scenes as the threesome explores all the crannies, and discover many of the people, onboard.  The idyllic lounging around, rampant thievery, and surprise at the sayings and doings of adults all come across very brightly. It is almost dissatisfying, then, when we too snappily come to the modern times, but this only adds richness to the novel, as the more unusual and startling events on ship carry through our narrator’s life to the present day. These, withheld as a secret for us to discover, are the crux of the plot, while the mood of the piece works brilliantly as a study of how three engaging lads had a perfect ending to their childhood, at the same time as being forced to grow up in different ways.

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