Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje (Booker Prize-winning author of The English Patient), was our December selection for my book club. Otherwise, I doubt I would have sought it out. I never read The English Patient, but did see the movie (ages ago). My memory of the movie is that it was slow-moving, but somewhat interesting. That about sums up my experience with this book.

The story follows the youth and adulthood of a young man named Michael (the author admits parts of the story are autobiographical), who travels alone on board a ship at the tender age of 11 to move from Sri Lanka to England. He has been living for the past four or five years with his uncle and is to be reunited with his mother on the other side of the journey. While most of the book focuses on the friendship created between Michael and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin, it also dips into his adult life and his reflections on the journey.

The ship carries a prisoner and the boys are very curious about his crimes and his nightly walk upon the ship's deck. Michael describes, with boyish intensity, his encounters with others on the ship, including the table mates where he is seated at the "cat's table," the table farthest from the influential people asked to sit at the Captain's table. His older cousin, also on board the ship, becomes involved with the mystery surrounding the prisoner.

I cannot say that I was captured thoroughly by the tale. It was pleasant enough to read, but nothing of great interest to me. I think the passage I enjoyed the most described a youthful venture where the boys strap themselves to parts of the ship during an especially intense storm and manage, somehow, to survive the foolhardy escapade, to the captain's relief and consternation.

I will be interested to find out what the other women thought about the book. I wonder if any of them will have liked it intensely, given my own indifference. I am often surprised by the wide variety of experiences others have with books. I can absolutely love a book and find others there who felt it was ineffective or somehow lacking, and other times I dislike a book, while the other women share resounding praises. Funny, how that works. We bring so much of our own individual backgrounds to what we read and sometimes a book stirs a connection and sometimes it doesn't. This one just didn't stir many personal connections for me.

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