Sep 6, 2011

THE CAT'S TABLE by Michael Ondaatje

source: The Telegraph 
By Beth Jones

Towards the end of Michael Ondaatje’s 1982 memoir, Running in the Family, is a chapter entitled “Harbour”. Describing the luxury liners, the blue tugs and the Maldive fishing vessels that skim out into the thick night air from Sri Lanka’s main port, the author recalls a “frail memory dragged up out of the past”: it is the early Fifties and he is going to the harbour to say goodbye to a family member at dusk.

It is the briefest of chapters, a mere 200-odd words, yet faint crepuscular memories are sketched with such deftness that it’s impossible not to imagine sailing out into the night upon dark infinite waters.

Turn the opening pages of Ondaatje’s sixth novel, The Cat’s Table, and this harbour landscape greets the mind’s eye once more. The narrator, Michael, is remembering himself as a boy of 11 waiting for the ocean liner Oronsay to sail from Colombo docks. This time he is a passenger himself, travelling alone on the 21-day voyage to England.

Each day of the crossing he dines at the cat’s table, Table 76, “the least privileged place” in the ship’s dining room, shared with a cast of misfits including two other boys, Ramadhin and Cassius. Exploring the ship, going where young boys shouldn’t, the three soon learn that what’s important “happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power”. read more....

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