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The Cat's Table

Michael Ondaatje's novel follows the adventures of a group of boys aboard a ship en route to England.

Michael Ondaatje

In the early 1950s in Ceylon an 11-year-old boy is put alone aboard a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the insignificant "cat's table" — as far from the Captain's table as can be — with two other lone boys and a small group of strange fellow passengers: one appears to be a shadowy figure from the British Secret Service; another a mysterious thief, another seems all too familiar with the dangerous ways of women and crime. On the long sea voyage across the Indian Ocean and through the Suez Canal, the three boys rush from one wild adventure and startling discovery to another: experiencing the first stirrings of desire, spying at night on a notorious shackled prisoner, moving easily between the decks and holds of the ship. As the secretive adult world is slowly revealed, they begin to realize that a drama is unfolding on board, and the prisoner's crime and fate will be a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them and link them forever. (From McClelland & Stewart)

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From the book

He wasn't talking. He was looking from the window of the car all the way. Two adults in the front seat spoke quietly under their breath. He could have listened if he wanted to, but he didn't. For a while, at the section of the road where the river sometimes flooded, he could hear the spray of water at the wheels. They entered the Fort and the car slipped silently past the post office building and the clock tower. At this hour of the night there was barely any traffic in Colombo. They drove out along Reclamation Road, passed St. Anthony's Church, and after that he saw the last of the food stalls, each lit with a single bulb. Then they entered a vast open space that was the harbour, with only a string of lights in the distance along the pier. He got out and stood by the warmth of the car.


From The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje ©2011. Published by McClelland & Stewart.

Author interviews

Michael Ondaatje discusses the autobiographical elements of his book The Cat's Table and why each book is a new country. 4:01
Eleanor Wachtel talks to Michael Ondaatje about one of his most personal books yet, "The Cat's Table." 53:59

More about this book

Other books by Michael Ondaatje