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The Cat's Table [Paperback]

Michael Ondaatje
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
Price: 6.29 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Kindle Edition 4.31  
Hardcover, Large Print 21.35  
Paperback 5.46  
Paperback, 5 July 2012 6.29  
Audio, CD, Audiobook 20.33 Trade-In Store
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Book Description

5 July 2012

'What had there been before such a ship in my life? A dugout canoe on a river journey? A launch in Trincomalee harbour? There were always fishing boats on our horizon. But I could never imagine the grandeur of this castle that was to cross the sea'.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner in Colombo bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the lowly 'cat's table' - as far from the Captain's table as can be - with a ragtag group of adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean the boys tumble from one adventure to another,and at night they spy on a shackled prisoner - his crime and fate a mystery that will haunt them forever...

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The Cat's Table + In the Skin of a Lion (Picador Books)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 July 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0099554429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099554424
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 20,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"One of the most admirable and enthralling literary novels of the year" (Daily Mail)

"Extraordinary" (Guardian)

"Superbly poised between the magic of innocence and the melancholy of experience" (The Economist)

"Michael Ondaatje's impressive new novel, containing dreams and fantasy between a ship's, in the most etymological way, a wonderful novel: one full of wonders" (Philip Hensher Daily Telegraph)

"Atmospheric, elegiac and at times, like Ondaatje's most famous novel, The English Patient, unbearably poignant" (Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler)

Book Description

From the acclaimed author of The English Patient and In the Skin of a Lion: a stunningly beautiful and moving new novel about a boy's life-changing journey from Ceylon to England in the 1950s.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreamlike 11 Jan 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As ever with Ondaatje you get a beautifully written, complexly structured novel, which is easy and pleasurable to read. This novel is even easier since it is so short but fails to be quite as engaging as some of his other works. Some of that can perhaps be put down to the style which is intentionally languid to simulate the dissociation of a three week sea voyage, but is intercut with intersecting stories which spin out into the past and future to significantly widen the scope of the book. As other reviewers have pointed out it does take some time to get going but once the disparate strands begin to weave back in together it becomes difficult to put down. I would definitely recommend but would sugges "In the Skin of a Lion" as the better introduction to Ondaatje's work.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow and dreamlike 23 Oct 2011
By Julia Flyte TOP 50 REVIEWER
This is the story of a three week journey in 1954 from Ceylon to England by sea. Michael is 11, and is leaving the only country he has ever known. Travelling alone, he quickly befriends two other boys of his age and the three of them spend the weeks exploring the ship, spying on their fellow passengers and generally getting up to mischief. Despite the fact that there are many similarities between the author's own story and the fictional Michael, this is apparently fictional. The book has a dreamy, timeless quality - the journey seems much longer than three weeks, which is probably how it would have felt to an 11 year old. Events that happened for a few days would stretch in the memory. The narrator himself comments that his memory is unreliable, which heightens the sense of unreality that permeates the pages.

I'm finding it very hard to know how to rate this book. It's short and easy enough to read, but it took me almost a month to get through. The writing is beautiful, even poetic, but there is very little in the way of a plot. Instead we get little vignettes about this passenger or that passenger, which are pleasant but never gave me the urge to pick the book up again and to read more. Towards the end some of the disparate strands do come together, but I think what will stay with me is not the characters, nor the storyline, but the impressions of a particular place in time. I'm glad I read it, but it's not a book I would hand to a friend and say "you must read this".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The journey of a boy 6 Sep 2012
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Michael Ondaatje writes prose with a the eye of a poet. In this book, written in the first person, he is an 11 year old Michael who travels in three weeks on a boat from Colombo to England. He spends his time with his new found friends, and they all eat at the cat's table, that it the table the furthest removed from the captain's table in the mess.

From that table we get to the plots and the subplots, with the shy Ramadhin, the daredevil Cassius, the violinist without a face, the unknown prisoner, the beautiful Emily, and so many other people.

Eleven years old is a spot where we all once were, a devilishly difficult age to remember and describe. Just at the end of childhood, it is a pre-sex presence, in which one accepts (mostly) whatever happens without moral grandstanding, with issues that do not involve much of the world.

The place of action is a limited space. The ship is a metal island with a varied society, but then Michael is at the Cat's table and largely out of sight of the big names on the ship. In his story, and that is remarkable for me, used as I am to Indian writers, musings about one's identity are absent. Identity is a creed of insecurity, in which even achievement can only be described as the result of overcoming odds. In this book people are seen in the space they are in. They are on a ship going from one island to another. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is continuously there in the people Michael knows. Sri Lanka also is the background given at the beginning with the view of Colombo by night, with its temperature only slightly lower than the heat of the day. The streets with their yellow lights are quiet, empty already before the departure of the ship and the morning when he will not be there.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shimmering prose, but where's the story? 9 July 2012
I'll start by saying that I think Ondaatje is a great writer, and for me, The English Patient is firmly in my top 10 all time best books. This book still has shimmering, delightful prose, and there is no mistaking Ondaatje's touch. Indeed, as a piece of writing, of itself, the book is both magical, and enchanting. But this isn't enough to hold together a fragmented, poorly realised, and uninteresting narrative, which ultimately doesn't go anywhere. Worst of all, I felt reading it, like I really couldn't bring myself to care about any of the characters - and when a book doesn't engage in what, on the face of it is intended to be a very human story, then something has gone wrong somewhere. Whilst the book has the feel of a magical, dreamlike state, this begins to grate pretty quickly, and the saccharin tinged feel is more Hollywood than a writer of Ondaatje's depth of talent should be turning out. Told as a series of short vignettes, the story is not substantial enough to hold the weight of the concepts it seems Ondaatje wants to unfold, and irritates with it's sketch like nature. The modern day elements seem stilted, and disjointed, and don't connect enough with the underlying story to provide the great revelations that might be expected. So overall, it is hard to like as a story - but, as I say, some of Ondaatje's prose is so sharp, so precise, and so brilliant, that it shines from the page. On that basis, Ondaatje has produced something of merit - but just don't read it looking for, or expecting a great story, or for that matter a great revelatory examination of the human psyche, because this is just too light to pull that off.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, charming and well-written
This is an account of a boy's journey by ship to England in the 1950s, written from the child's point of view. Read more
Published 20 days ago by @JanEllis_writer
2.0 out of 5 stars strange book
Not sure if I enjoyed this book, strange characters and plot, resulting in an overall confused feel to it. Wouldn't recommend it.
Published 1 month ago by Wonder Woman
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cat's Table Michael Ondaatje
A wonderful feat, capturing splendidly the rather random thoughts and attitudes of young boys. Splendid descriptions of sights and smells.
Published 1 month ago by Barbara Laurie
3.0 out of 5 stars Voyage of Formative Adventures
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
is written from the perspective of three boys who are travelling from Asia to Europe and stopping along the way at strategic ports. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Carmel Antoinette Dunne
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars: "Each day we had to do at least one thing that was...
Eleven year old Michael has to make the journey from Ceylon to England on his own, though he has a friend in 17 year-old Emily, a distant cousin, who will keep an eye on him, and a... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Eileen Shaw
4.0 out of 5 stars Vignettes from an 11yr olds life
Told through the eyes of an 11 year old boy as he sets sail from Colombo to England in the 1950s to be reunited with a mother he hasn't seen for 4 years. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Book chatter
4.0 out of 5 stars the cat's whiskers
Read this for the story about boys finding their freedoms, for the writing, for the poetry. And it has an awesome design too.
Published 4 months ago by Fly
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
I'm biased, having made the journey between Ceylon and England on the Queen Mary myself- but what a wonderful evocation of childhood. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Manel
3.0 out of 5 stars the shortest and the longest....
well the shortest book I've read in a while anyway - but its taken me longer to read this (2 months and 4 days) than it did for me to devour the 900 odd pages of Lonesome Dove by... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ashurbanipal
4.0 out of 5 stars entertaining
It is the story of an 11-year old boy Michael (or as he is called - Mina) on his three-week trip aboard the "Oronsay" from Sri Lanka to England. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ray Garraty
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