Eleven year old Mynah is alone on a ship travelling from Colombo to London, where he will reunite with his mother. Assigned to take his meals at the “cat’s table,” with a motley collection of eccentric and socially unimportant passengers, Mynah prepares for a long, dreary 21 day voyage – but what he gets is a life changing adventure.
The Cat’s Table has been described in numerous reviews as Ondaatje’s most approachable and accessible novel yet. Unlike his previous, heavier material (I can only compare towhat I have read: Anil’s Ghost and The English Patient) The Cat’s Table flows easily and can be read quickly. But take my advice: don’t read it too quickly. Through Mynah, we see the complex and confusing world of adults through a child’s eyes, as he deciphers the desires, motivations and relationships around him. There is a lot more going on here than you initially see (you are reading Ondaatje, remember), and you will want to pay close attention.
In the second half of the book, the story is told more and more by Mynah as an adult – as Michael, a now successful novelist living in Canada and reflecting on his youth, and how the journey affected his life in ways he could never have imagined as a child.
While the story closely resembles that of Ondaatje himself, he insists it is not autobiographical, but simply using events from his life as a basis for a story.
Put this one on your Christmas wish list. A truly entertaining read.
Shortlisted for the 2011 ScotiaBank Giller Prize.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (Aug 30 2011)