Review: The Cat’s Table

This was my first time reading Ondaatje.  I confess that seeing The English Patient film years back led me to steer clear.  (For those of you who have not seen The English Patient, and I think there might be 4 of you, let me tell you that it’s a sanctimonious hell on the big screen.  I like to refer to it as the “beige movie.”)

Sorry.  I digress.

The Cat’s Table is the story of a boy who boards a ship called the Oronsay, which travels from Sri Lanka to England in the early 1950s.  The boy, Michael (nicknamed Mynah), is 11 years old, and is traveling alone on this 3-week voyage.  He soon meets up with two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin, and their adventures begin.  The book is about how that 3-week voyage managed to shape the life of the boy, and the story eventually hops back and forth between his pre-teen adventure and his adult life.  The trip had great impact on him.  Three weeks can change everything.  I quickly got the message that no one should ever “feel unimportant in the scheme of things,” which is certainly a thought that anyone can appreciate.

Ondaatje’s observations are acute.  There are passages that make a distinct impression, such as my personal favorite below:

“Mr. Fonseka would not be a wealthy man.  And it would be a spare life he would be certain to lead as a schoolteacher in some urban location.  But he had a serenity that came with the choice of the life he wanted to live.  And this serenity and certainty I have seen only among those who have the armour of books close by.”

Love that reference to books.  But I’m digressing again.

The trouble that I had with this book is that I started to feel like he was writing in sound bites.  I wanted more from the story.   I started to grow impatient with Ondaatje’s musings, because they started becoming more important than the advancement of the plot.  The story felt disjointed, and for me, the “darker” ending seemed to have very little to do with the main character’s on-ship interactions with a series of recurring characters.  Overall, I felt like I was supposed to admire the profound writing more than the story, which left me disappointed.  Only 2 stars for me.

The Giller Shortlist is Announced

and is anyone else out there as sighing big sighs of disappointment? Does it seem to you that perhaps they managed yet again to miss the mark? And, why does this list look way too similar to the Man Booker shortlist?

I just feel that so many have been left off the list and replaced with mediocre suggestions. Flashbacks of Fall , by Colin McAdams (a shortlisted pick in the year before last’s contest) and the Winner of 2010 prize, The Sentimentalists, by  Johanna Shively Skibsrud are rushing through my brain right now. That and, why do I bother getting worked up over the Giller prize nominees?

Although, I’m certain Michael Ondaajte has written a wonderful book, wasn’t this JUST released? Like last week? is that even fair?

Maybe I’m being too critical?

I’ve heard a number of good reviews for Half Blood Blues, also nominated for the Booker, and even one review where if it fails to win the Booker this reviewer has offered to eat her hat.

To provide quote from Chapters/Indigo, we’ll just have to wait for the Governor General’s Award to be announced before we get too agitated about those that have been left off the shortlist, ”

Conspicuous by their absence are Wayne Johnston and Guy Vanderhaeghe.  Alexi Zentner’s debut novel, the Northern Gothic  Touch was extraordinarily well reviewed, yet didn’t make the cut.  Marina Endicott, finalist for Good to a Fault (which also picked up the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize) was not so lucky for her second novel, The Little Shadows.  Speaking of second books, it is surprising how many of them are here – Bezmozgis, deWitt, and Edugyan are all sophomore efforts – and no sophomore slumps clearly.

The good news for Johnston, Vanderhaeghe, Endicott and all the other snubbed longlisters is that there’s another chance for them – the Governor General’s Literary Awards shortlist will be revealed on October 11th.”

The Giller 2011 Shortlist: