The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table

Book - 2011
Average Rating:
Rate this:
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the "cat's table"--as far from the Captain's Table as can be--with a ragtag group of "insignificant" adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: one man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator's elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself "with a distant eye" for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another Cat's Table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy's adult years, it tells a spellbinding story--by turns poignant and electrifying--about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2011
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9780307700117
Branch Call Number: Fiction Ond
Characteristics: 269 p. ; 22 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

VaughanPLDavidB Apr 26, 2017

I read this book because I'm leading a book club discussion. I selected it for the reputation of the author and was sorely disappointed. The story swung from the inconsequential to the preposterous. The narrator recounted facts he could not possibly have been privy to and the author strained a literary device to the breaking point to try to to tell a story out of one of the characters' past, a Miss Lasqueti. It was a period of her life that had absolutely nothing to do with the story the author was trying to tell, and was completely unrelated to role she played in the climax of the book. It was an exercise in literary self-indulgence on the part of the author and a complete red herring.

What I found most frustrating is that the narrator of the story barely acknowledged the fact that he was complicit in one man losing his job, a second being murdered, and a third escaping lawful custody. (Oops. Spoilers. Sorry, not sorry) In the end, I have to wonder why the author bothered to write this book at all, unless he had a contractual obligation to his publisher. My dislike for this book is indicative of why I generally shy away from fiction: the real stories of real people are infinitely more interesting than fictional ones.

AL_ANNAL Sep 25, 2016

Exuberant 11 year old boys on board a ship sailing from Sri Lanka to London in the 1950's. Beautifully written and completely absorbing!

Jul 05, 2016

Always a fan of Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. "The Cat's Table" was my second favourite of Ondaatje's works after "In the Skin of a Lion". "The Cat's Table," like his other works, is a story of storytelling at its best.

Apr 01, 2015

This author is a master with words. He can create the place and the atmosphere with words in a way that transports you to that location and makes you feel the environment. He creates characters that are believable and emotions you can understand.
All of which is why I keep trying his books even though (so far) they haven't really appealed to me.
I really liked this one until the end. It's slow pace and meandering story were interesting and amusing. But the wrap up of all the stories, especially of the minor mysterious goings on, was entirely disappointing and left me let down.

Feb 12, 2015

Three young boys bond on a on a three week sea journey that is taking them to new lives in England.

What can happen in these confined quarters over a short period of time? Not much, actually, but Michael Ondaatje would have you believe that the hijinks and drama that takes place would shape and influence the rest of their lives.

However, The Cat’s Table doesn’t deliver on any of this. The boys’ lives diverge and the reader never understands the significance of any of the rather ordinary events that took place, and is left wondering if they are anything other than the hyper imaginings of an eleven-year old boy.

As an adult, the narrator reconnects with a distant relative, who was one of the adult passengers aboard the voyage, and asks her about a particular incident. Her response is indicative of the entire book, vague and unsatisfying.

This book reads like the childhood imaginings of an aging author whose fame and previous literary masterpieces have afforded him a self-indulgent quasi-memoir at the expense of the reader.

Aug 25, 2014

***** stars. In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ?Cat's Table? with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner ? his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.
As the narrative moves from the decks and holds of the ship and the boy?s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story about the difference between the magical openness of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding ? about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage, when all on board were ?free of the realities of the earth?.
With the ocean liner a brilliant microcosm for the floating dream of childhood, The Cat?s Table is a vivid, poignant and thrilling book, full of Ondaatje?s trademark set-pieces and breathtaking images: a story told with a child?s sense of wonder by a novelist at the very height of his powers. ****** I enjoyed this book tremendously. Mr. Ondaatje has a wonderful, almost magical voice. He is able to project himself into the mind of young Michael and the bravery of youthful innocence. I listened to this book read by the author which I highly recommend!!

Didn't read much of it - perhaps I'll try again another time? A very interesting book.

WVMLBookClubTitles Jun 09, 2013

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly "Cat's Table" with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. The boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. Looking back from adulthood, the narrator unfolds a spellbinding and layered tale about the magical, often forbidden discoveries of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding.

Apr 13, 2013

Fascinating. Unlike anything else I've read.

bwortman Mar 28, 2013

A fascinating collection of characters and truly delectable prose make this novel a delight. For those familiar with Ondaatje's works, this novel is a beautiful addition to his body of work. With a plot that fluxes in and out of the time aboard the ship, following first one character and then another, resolving both large and small mysteries. Yet the novel is always tracking towards the ultimate conclusion that briefly shines a metaphor on the human experience which is utterly worth encountering.

View All Comments


Add a Quote

Apr 02, 2014

I once had a friend whose heart “moved” after a traumatic incident that he refused to recognize. It was only a few years later, while he was being checked out by his doctor for some minor ailment, that this physical shift was discovered. And I wondered then, when he told me this, how many of us have a moved heart that shies away to a different angle, a millimetre or even less from the place where it first existed, some repositioning unknown to us. Emily. Myself. Perhaps even Cassius. How have our emotions glanced off rather than directly faced others ever since, resulting in simple unawareness or in some cases cold-blooded self-sufficiency that is damaging to us? Is this what has left us, still uncertain, at a Cat’s Table, looking back, looking back, searching out those we journeyed with or were formed by, even now, at our age?

Jul 19, 2011

In any case, it seemed to us that nearly all at our table, from the silent tailor, Mr. Gunesekera, who owned a shop in Kandy, to the entertaining Mr. Mazappa, to Miss Lasqueti, might have an interesting reason for their jouney, even if it was unspoken or, so far, undiscovered. In spite of this, our table's status on the Oronsay continued to be minimal, while those at the Captain's Table were constantly toasting one another's significance. That was a small lesson I learned on the journey. What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power. Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Northern Indiana Database Cluster

To Top