I first saw this book at a new and used bookstore in the Raleigh airport. After spending a few days on the coast, I was in the mood to read something along the nautical lines. Seeing the black and white photo of the ship on the cover and reading the sleeve, I was intrigued. (“Cat’s Table” is the indication of the least liked passengers of the ship that are seated together as far from the captain as possible.)
The Cat’s Table is a youthful tale of a Sri Lankan boy named Michael who boards the Oronsay to head for England where he is to meet his mother for the first time in the 1950s. Loosely watched over by his cousin, Flavia, he often wonders the boat with his friends, Ramadhin and Cassius, getting their selves into trouble. Like most minds of that age, everything holds a curious fascination as you discover the people and events that begin to surround you. Michael, nicknamed Mynah, becomes directed by daily revelations about people and life in general.
The story is told from Michael’s perspective, looking back at his time on the ship and occasionally fast-forwarding to events that occurred afterwards, often shaped in some way from this important part of his past. Ondaatje’s writing is often poetic at times and has a smoothness to it that makes the reading feel very light. While the boys do engage in adventures on the ship, the sense of it is slightly masked by speed of the storytelling.
Overall, this was an enjoyable book. I couldn’t say that it was awesome or that it stunk, but it was a nice read for rainy afternoons and long flights. If you are in the mood for a quaint sea tale involving the boisterous wit of young teenage boys and a nostalgic sense of time, you will enjoy this one too.