The Cat’s Table is the coming of age tale of unaccompanied eleven-year-old Michael who is put on board the cruiseliner Oronsay from Ceylon to England where he is to be reunited with his mother. Michael is seated at the cat’s table with an eclectic group of characters that we come to know as the novel progresses. The cat’s table is the farthest table in the dining room from the Captain’s table and therefore considered the most unimportant.
Michael and his two new friends create a secretive shipboard world for themselves. As they are considered insignificant they are also invisible and are able to access parts of the ship that would otherwise be prohibited to three unsupervised and curious eleven-year-old boys. They roam the decks at night, sleep in the afternoons and sneak off when the ship is in port. “Sleep is a prison for a boy who has friends to meet.”
The boys are fascinated by the mysterious prisoner who is given night walks on the deck after the ship’s passengers are asleep and become embroiled in adult intrigues of which they have little understanding.
This is a book I tried to read slowly because I was enjoying the writing so much. I loved the world that Ondaatje created for the boys on the ship. It was magical and poignant and the journey they take on the ship becomes an awakening and a personal journey from childhood to adulthood.
Michael Ondaatje is the Booker Prize winning author of The English Patient, born in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and now living in Canada.
Another review of The Cat’s Table: