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Monday, October 24, 2011

The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje (McClelland & Stewart 2011)


The Cat's Table is the story of eleven-year-old "Mynah's" voyage from Ceylon to England aboard the passenger liner, Oronsay, in the early 1950s. It is Ondaatje's sixth novel.  However, while it may share many things that readers have come to expect from an Ondaatje story -- marginal characters  and quasi-mythical histories -- it does not begin with the same attention to language, or the same initimate intensity.  In fact, in the beginning, it is much more reminiscent of the author's memoir, Running In the Family.

That being said, Cat's Table most certainly holds the reader's interest through an episodic, haphazard plot, reflective of the fact that it is the excavation of a child's memory (albeit told in retrospect by an adult).

Halfway through the novel, however, Cat's Table undergoes a transformation.  Mynah's child-like observations give way to the far more introspective "Michael" -- Mynah's adult incarnation (as fate would have it, a famous author). "Ramadhin's Heart" is a brilliant, touching episode which demonstrates the author's narractive strengths.  It is here that the reader realizes just how attached he has become to the disparate characters, through their random misadventures. 

In addition, forgotten threads of story find their way back into the weft hereafter, and tighten their grip on the reader.  Previously dropped stitches seem suddenly purposeful, and out of thin air, a mystery beings to unfold. 

While it would be difficult to argue that Cat's Table is Ondaatje's best artistry to date, it is certainly his most accessible. Diehard fans of Ondaatje the prose stylist, may be disappointed here; however, the author will win over new audiences with this stripped down tale.

1 comment:

Horse Human Land said...

I picked up The Cats Table from the library and once I started reading it, found I kept checking the front cover to make sure: This is Ondaatje? Really? Why has no line come singing off the page to knock me off my feet yet? And when I realized that no such lines were forthcoming, I settled in an followed the narrator's child-mind through adventures that through their strangeness, incarnated their own sense of poetics, though I must admit I still felt a lingering disappointment. I did, however, love the author's use of his own name for the the main character, which of course tempts suspicions of autobiography. Though what novel deeply written does not draw from its writer's own life?