16-11-12

Michael Ondaatje: The Cat's Table

catstable.jpg

This is a gentle book. It starts as a typical, a bit dreamlike experience of an 11-year old boy who takes a liner from Colombo to England to be reunited with a mother he hasn't seen for a long time. During meals, he is seated at the cat's table, the table farthest away from the captain's table, together with a motley crew of low-status passengers and two boys of the same age (about 11).

First it seems as if Ondaatje sees the ships as a big box, continuously putting in new characters. Some of them become very close to the boy, some seem only to touch him from time to time, like billiard balls in a pool game. Some are in a far away corner of the box, barely aware of his presence of the boy. And sofar it all slowly develops into a nice and slow story about a boy on a boat. Then things start happening.

One by one the characters move and seem to be thrown out of the story. To me they were like flares that go up and disappear into the night after you followed their trail through the dark. One by one the characters disappear out of the story, and only two remain in the last chapter.

I liked this book a lot. It is not spectacular, it is not a pricewinner, but it is lovely, and the whole story seems to follow the rythm of a sea voyage, slow but not to be distracted from its course.

Good reading in turbulent times.

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