le 3 janvier 2012
This is my first reading of MO, whose style I liked instantly. Short chapters with stories within, released in short bursts, and the end result superior to its constituent parts. [A Cat's Table is the dining table farthest away from the Captain's Table on passenger ships, implying low status.]
The book is based on MO's own 21-day sea voyage as an 11-year old from Colombo, Sri Lanka to the UK in 1954, and its aftermath. Years earlier MO's parents supposedly divorced. No word about the father. The mother left for the UK and MO was adopted by an uncle, a judge, who sent him to a strict boarding school. There MO learned to survive in groups and earn respect from fellow pupils: by skillful denial and lying, whenever opportune. Now he is on his way to the UK for further study, and his mother awaits his arrival. But he could not care less about her during the voyage, because so much is happening every day...
At the Cat's Table, MO meets men and women whose status and stories he cannot fully judge yet. But in his diary he records every adult sentence overheard and not understood. He also bonds quickly with Cassius (12), a wild boy a year ahead of him in school and Ramadhin, a shy boy with a weak heart whose sister he knows. They are also sent to the UK for further education. The trio spends most daylight and nightly hours together, probing the ship and trying to interpret what they see and hear. The sea voyage is a magical mystery tour for the unsupervised, trouble-prone 11 and 12-year olds, who quickly find secret meeting places to spy on and discuss fellow passengers, some of whom are not who they claim to be. They explore the ship's every level, make a nuisance of themselves, even discover a tightly-guarded criminal aired only around midnight.
Part of the book's magic are the diners at the lowly table, whose stories and competence stun the trio: a kind botanist shows them a big, well-kept garden meant to keep newly-discovered tropical species alive in the ship's deepest hold; there is a ship demolisher full of knowledge of floating vessels, a pianist with a past he tries to outrun, who jumps ship in Port Said, etc.
These and other characters and many more fabulous stories must be enjoyed by readers without further guidance from a reviewer, who stays silent on the aftermath as well. A magical novel full of pleasurable reading, highly re-readable and very highly recommended.
le 14 mai 2013
I enjoyed every minute of this book. Through the eyes of a child of 12, we discover a handful of voyagers on a ship that goes from Ceylon to England. The storyteller and two of his friends have hideouts aboard that allow them to listen to private conversations or see things that were not meant for their eyes. As children they are unable to understand the full extent of what they see and hear. They are mischievous and constantly up to tricks, some of which put their lives into danger. The charm of the writing style comes from the candid glance the main character gives to everything he sees and the English he uses, slightly "décalé", as one would expect from a speaker of English from Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). I'll look out for other books by Michael Ondaatje.