Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje ****

Mynah is an eleven-year-old from a small town in Ceylon, (now Sri Lanka) on the ship Oronsay to England to live with his mother who he hasn't seen in 3-4 years. It's the early 1950s and he and two other young boys (Cassius and Ramadhin) are seated at the The Cat's Table, the antithesis of the Captain's Table, a collection of the passengers with the lowest status.

In Michael Ondaaje's novel of lost innocence, the ship's cargo of strange passengers and cargo slowly unfold. Deep in the hold is a kennel of valuable dogs, and a garden of exotic (and possibly dangerous) plants, and a mural of naked women. The ship is a metaphor for the adult passengers who also reveal strange (and possibly dangerous) depths as the voyage progresses.

The book is written as Mynah's memoir, written years later, and future events are interspersed with the main narrative. By the end, the journey is revealed to be a war between the children (the young boys and several teenage girls) and the adults (crooks, predators, and deceivers; some strangers and some relatives).

This is a literary novel full of excellent characterization and description; each small (unnumbered) chapter is a work of art, but the whole lacks a compelling plot line or any satisfactory resolution. If you enjoy this genre, this is a excellent choice.

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