Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje-Review

Many moons ago, back in a immigrant lit course, I was introduced to the wonder of Michael Ondaatje's beautiful writing.  The English Patient was a transcendent experience for me, and then later I read In The Skin of the Lion and decided this was officially an author I deeply admired.  So when The Cat's Table arrived from Random House I could hardly wait to dig in and savour it.

Mynah is being sent by his aunt and uncle from India to England to reunite with his mother.  He is traveling by ship, by himself, in third class and he's eleven.  As if this wasn't already a great adventure, there are two other boys his age who he quickly befriends, who are also traveling alone.  As the three of them rampage around the boat from dawn, when the roller skater can be seen on deck, to long after dark when the mysterious prisoner gets to come on deck, they discover first great crushes, loneliness, excitement and a great friendship. 

This review has been sitting in my drafts folder forever, mouldering and gathering dust.  Every once in awhile I open it up and stare at it, sometimes writing a word or two, then closing it and moving on to something that creates less brain freeze.  And for the longest time I couldn't figure out why.  Then I realized, I just didn't love this book.  I wanted to, and parts of it I did, but in the end, not so much.  Which went totally against the many, many rave reviews I've seen about this book bandying about, often citing how this is his masterpiece; hence my complete stale mate at trying to get my thoughts in type.

It starts of in classic Ondaatje style, fondly reminiscing and telling stories about his adventures and those of the others at the Cats Table (IE- the least desirable table in the dinning room).  It's funny, engaging, full of insights and surprises and I settled in with a sigh, thinking of the first time I read the English Patient and how enjoyable that was.  Then somewhere around the middle it digresses.  It follows Mynah into his current adult life and talks about a multitude of depressing things; failed marriages, lost friendships, the death of loved ones and right about there the story flat lines for me.  The childhood journey, which is what I thought the book was 100% about, disappears and Mynah spends way too much time picking apart his adult life after the voyage.

It takes a considerable amount of time to get back to the boat, the mystery of the prisoner and Mynah's cousin (or maybe it doesn't? I'm not sure, I was bored and slowed right down on the reading), once it does the story picks back up and I was once again fully enjoying it.  However, it's a bit hard to overlook a largish chunk in the middle which I barely dragged myself through.  And the longer I thought about this review, the more it became apparent to me that I didn't enjoy this story nearly as much as I'd originally thought or had wanted to.

Alas, I wanted to love you Cats Table, maybe if I cut out the offending pages in the middle I will.

The Cats Table, by Michael Ondaatje
Published by Random House, Oct 2011
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy The Cat's Table on Amazon