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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.
From the Hardcover edition.
This audiobook is very different from most in how it is presented. Picture sitting in the library room of an old, grand manor at night, curled up on a sofa by a crackling fire, while a distinguished man in an armchair quietly reads to you from some leather-bound volume in his lap. That is the feel and quality of this recording, with both the benefits and drawbacks that come with it.
The soft, rich voice of the author is both lyrical and melodious - and that remains a constant of the production. His voice lulls you into a nearly hypnotic state where you can end up just listening to the sound of him speaking, and miss what is actually being SAID. What this meant for me was that the book took more concentration than I normally need, because there were no audio cues of any event taking place. Accounts of a quiet afternoon tea are read with the exact same tone and cadence as the description of a dramatic, terrifying storm at sea, or the occurrence of an attempted murder. Blink, and you'll miss it.
To me, the story was beautiful and honest. It took far more time than usual to learn about and care for the cast of characters (and through this to appreciate the story in it's entirety); but in real life, we don't really know someone's full value when we meet them. People are nuanced, complicated, and cautious; and it takes time, care, and effort to fully understand and appreciate them. We reveal ourselves slowly. I thought this story was a great reminder of this.
In the end, whether you enjoy this book may possibly depend on what your expectations are, and what situation you will be listening to it in. I can't imagine having gotten as much from it, or enjoying it nearly so much if I was listening in the car over a handful of days, as I sometimes do; but listening to it at home, quietly, over the course of 24 hours was a rare and special treat that felt both magical and intimate.
This story will stay with me, and I'm glad to know it.
41 of 42 people found this review helpful
I did not expect this book to have the depth it had. I've been in a dry spell lately with many books being just boring. This book regenerated my enthusiasm for audio books---with 1500 titles in my library, it's getting harder to find really great books. I'd put this book on my top 100 list. Here's the odd part.
The publisher's description doesn't do the book justice. But, after listening to it, I'm not sure I could say anything different.
This review will be lost in the hundreds of reviews for The Cat's Table. But if you come across this, take my recommendation and go for it.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
I've read many reviews of The Cat's Table and they are almost all extremely enthusiastic appraisals of the complex, enigmatic, eloquent, elegant, evocative, ethereal and literary word-craftsmanship of Michael Ondaatje's new novel. Well, I have to say that it is definitely well crafted but the author seems to me the wrong choice to narrate his own creation. The book had the potential to be a exciting journey of life but ended up being a complete drag to get through. At many times it feels like the author tried to be a word-magician instead of having a book that immerses you in its story line. I have no doubt that it is very different if you read it yourself, but as an audio book it was a little boring and non engaging.
24 of 27 people found this review helpful
Those familiar with Ondaatje's impressive work know that he is a masterful writer that has penned several novels (The English Patient) and numerous volumes of poetry. . .With his ever cogent insights into the human soul, Ondaatje has created a boatload of fascinating characters on board the Oronsay in The Cat's Table, the voyage recollected through the eyes of 11 yr. old Michael--and therein lies the problem. While the antics of the herd of youngsters are told with adventurous relish, the cast of richly hued characters and seamy events are only revealed in bits and pieces, limited to the perspective and abilities of a very young and naive Michael. The premise works sometimes...but more often the pensive Michael waxes discordantly over the years, jumps around the decades with his personal analysis, while a monstrously nostalgic wave seems to swallow the colorful characters that so piqued our interest. The words are those of a poet, they are lush; it is beautifully written, but the story itself is at its strongest when it takes a deep breath from Michael's ponderous preoccupations and descends beneath the polished decks--down into the dark steamy engine rooms, the Duke and his questionable avocation involving lithe young boys, the bridge-playing seductresses, the self-acclaimed world champion deck hands and lotharios, the deadly vegatation growing in the deep hull...those are the too sparsely developed elements that keep the pace going more so than the analytical musings of our budding boy poet. Pleasant enough, elegiac read that will be most appreciated by those that have a love affair with words.
17 of 20 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about The Cat's Table? What did you like least?
I was interested in the story but had a hard time understanding the reader.<br/>The authors are seldom good narrators.
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Michael Ondaatje?
A person with clear voice and narrating talents which Ondaatje does not have.
Was The Cat's Table worth the listening time?
No, I'll have to get a it in book form.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
Ondaatje writes of a trip across the Indian Ocean and on to London when he was about 12. Now and then he follows a character to the current day. The boys did a lot of mischief, even helping a professional thief on ship, and met some interesting people. It is a memoir--far more interesting than anything in my life--but I did miss a plot.<br/>
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
Yes, especially if the person is a fan of the author.
What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)
I've read that Mr. Ondaatje is not big on character development. He also leaves a number of unanswered questions in the story. All of these techniques put more responsibility on the reader. In this book he points out that with art, the artists expression is not complete without the viewer. So, in this books, his writing is not complete until we, the reader, finish the story.<br/><br/>
What aspect of Michael Ondaatje’s performance would you have changed?
It was an adequate performance, however I generally appreciate a narrator that uses more inflection.
Was The Cat's Table worth the listening time?
Yes, for me it was.
Any additional comments?
Mr. Ondaatje has a keen use of description and metaphor and I enjoyed numerous passages.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Michael Ondaatje reads this memoir-like novel so lovingly it s a treat to listen to. in fact, I keep listening again and again to parts at random. In this way the book is a collection of magical stories and can be enjoyed in any order and repeatedly. The magic is in seeing the events unfold on the ship from the point of view of a curious and sensitive child.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Michael Ondaatje is a wonderful writer, choosing his words and phrases so carefully that you can spend hours just enjoying the writing itself. However, he is not a great narrator. He speaks in a quiet, hurried way, with a bit of an accent that can make it hard to catch what he's saying. This is a good book to listen to if you are trying to go to sleep.
The story is that of the author's trip from Sri Lanka to England, by boat, when he was 11. He travelled alone, but was watched over by the adults who shared his table at dinner (nicknamed "The Cat's Table" because it was so far from the Captain's table), and befriended by other children also travelling alone. He is the observer and the student - interpreting what he saw, now, as an adult. The story is poignant and touching. I would not say that it is as good as The English Patient, but it is well written.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
In general, authors should resist reading their own work. A top-notch narrator would have enhanced the novel, especially since the story jumped around a lot between past and present, and a professional could have helped the listener make those leaps with him.
One reviewer compared this novel to leafing through a scrapbook. I think that's apt; it's an experience where each new remembered picture or bit of memorabilia prompted an anecdote, a memory, a small revelation about being 11 once and being 11 no longer.
As always with the poet Ondaatje, the language is beautiful, the descriptions breathtaking, the rhythm of each sentence perfectly set against the plot. I would certainly recommend it.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful