In early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes, he is seated at the lowly Cat's Table with an eccentric and fascinating group of adults and two other boys, Ramdhin and Cassius. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean, the boys are drawn in to the worlds and stories of those around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another. And later, in the darkness, they are transfixed by the night walks of a shackled prisoner--his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. But there are other diversions as well: one man tells of his life with women and jazz, another opens the door to the magical realm of books. The narrator's elusive and beautiful cousin, Emily, becomes his confidant, allowing him to see himself "with a distant eye" for the first time and to feel the first stirrings of desire. And there is the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, who will come to reveal unexpected mysteries of the heart.
"What had there been before such a ship in my life?"
As the story moves from the decks and holds of the ship to the narrator's adult years, it unravels a spellbinding tale about the often forbidden discoveries of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding, about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.
The Cat's Table is a thrilling, deeply moving novel written by a novelist at the height of his powers.
Published by McClelland & Stewart
What attracted me to this book?
I read The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje while I was writing A Long Way From Her. The narrator of my manuscript, nineteen years old Lyndi Wimpel, takes a journey that shapes her life. I read The Cat's Table because I wanted to see how a master handles some of the same elements I explored.
What I found...
As I began to read, I was surprised at loud the author's voice was. Show don't tell, I kept thinking. Then when the narrator finally takes over, he truly takes over and no one else is heard.
I wondered if the author had worried that the adult voices would overwhelm the boy's voice. Or is it because the author wants the reader to test out what it is like to see everything, experience everything from a distance? The boy's view point is skillfully conveyed. And throughout the book, despite or perhaps because the adult characters are so jarring, I sought out the narrator's voice--like a calming port in the storm.
Quotes that charmed me...
'[T]hree of us were smoking twigs broken off from a cane chair that we lit and sucked at... Cassius was eager that we should try to smoke the whole chair before the end of our journey.' (p. 19)
'[W]e had barely a fishhook's evidence.' (p. 73)
'We considered ourselves good at vacuuming up clues.' (p. 73)
'There is a story always ahead of you.' (p. 181)
'[H]e was saying the line with a syrup of scorn all over it.' (p. 195)
Did page 93 prompt you to laugh?
The narrator wonders: 'Had she become the adult she was because of what had happened on that journey?' The voyage was only 21 days long and yet it had a profound and lasting effect on the characters' lives.
This made me ponder incidents in my own life where a short period of time had a profound effect on entire my life--such as my wedding day...the nine months of Katimavik...and...
Work in progress...
On August 14th, Joanna Penn (of The Creative Penn) interviewed the author of Wired for Story. Listening to this interview, I had a break To paraphrase, Lisa Cron story revolves around seeking the answer to a question. Such as, why did Lara kill Jacob? It occurred to me that the question and answer can shape your synopsis. I tried it--and it worked so well.
Lara Cron pointed out, conflict is key in story. She suggested that one way to heighten conflict is to show the difference between what the character wants/images will happen and what does happen.
Word count: 24, 910 words
Next post: Please welcome Chris Force and Chris Di Giuseppi