The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table

Large Print - 2011
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Booker Award-winning author Michael Ondaatje has penned a stunning new novel. Electrifying and poignant, it tells the story of the sometimes forbidden discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a sea voyage.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a ship bound for England and at mealtimes is seated at the "cat's table" with a ragtag group of insignificant adults and two other boys. As the ship makes its way across the seas, the boys tumble from one boisterous adventure to another.

But there are other diversions that are not so innocent. 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 between the decks and holds of the ship, it tells a spellbinding story about the differences between the tender innocence of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding.

Publisher: Thorndike, Me. : Center Point Pub., 2011
Edition: Center Point large print ed
ISBN: 9781611732245
Branch Call Number: Fiction
Characteristics: 311 p. (large print) ; 23 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.

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.

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.

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.

Jan 18, 2013

A rich and captivating tale that demonstrates just why Ondaatje is one of our finest storytellers. Cat’s Table centers on a mystery that is somehow both intricate and simple in its unraveling. Beautifully told.

Dec 14, 2012

The story takes place mainly on a ocean liner traveling from Ceylon to Britain in the 1950s. Even the physical nature of the book conveyed the times, with its heavy paper feathered on the edges and its sepia photo on the cover
The biggest weakness in this tale was the lack of an over-riding plot line that united the characters. I found it difficult to place such a large cast of people as the story progressed. The small vignettes were evocative in themselves, but much of the story had no bearing on the plot - if it was the prisoner’s tale, or perhaps on a deeper level Michael’s awakening to the ethics behind good and bad behavior? From the opening quote I get the impression the author wants to comment upon the vagaries of youth and how our early experiences direct our entire lives. Ondaatje dedicates this book to Cassius, the other friend from Michael's youth whom he never meets again as an adult

Dec 14, 2012

The Cat’s Table --- by Michael Ondatje --- What does it mean when one says “that is an interesting book?” Is that what one says when you must read a book for fifty pages and still the book does not compel you to read it further? I have read books like these --- and felt deceived. I came to reading Ondatje feeling intimidated. After all, he doesn’t write fiction, he writes literature. Fiction is like Coca Cola. Literature is like Elderberry Presse. So. How was The Cat’s Table? Elegant. Thoughtful. A book that took me in and, in spite of the fact that it was not an “adventure novel”. It made me look forward to what happened next. And just by coincidence the three protagonists were three young boys on an ocean voyage to a new land. That was something with which I could identity. And in September 1954 no less. Do read this book. You will find it gently enjoyable.

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 Get NoveList Reading Recommendations

Subject Headings


Find it at TCCL

To Top