New Michael Ondaatje Novel in October

Toronto Life has the exciting news that Michael Ondaatje’s newest novel, The Cat’s Table, will be published later this year (August if you’re a lucky Canadian, October if you live in the States). As TL notes, this is only Ondaatje’s 5th novel in 35 years (although he has published all kinds of other things in that period–poetry, plays, memoirs, and a great book on film with legendary editor Walter Murch).

Per TL, this one is going to be great:

Though the novel’s various publishers around the world have so far been mum on the book’s subject matter, no one is afraid to heap vague but effusive praise upon The Cat’s Table. McClelland and Stewart publisher Ellen Seligman says the novel “is a surprise and a sheer delight – a brilliantly told story… perhaps Ondaatje’s most thrilling and moving novel to date,” while editor Sonny Mehta of Knopf Publishing Group uses such words as “wisdom” and “poignancy” to describe the work. Robin Robertson of Jonathan Cape, the book’s U.K. publisher, pulled no punches: “What a book it is! In my view, the best thing Ondaatje has done.”

Well, obviously Ondaatje’s publishers are going to have high praise for their man, but I will say that this is one of those rare cases where the book might just live up to the hype. Ondaatje is, in my opinion, one of the few must-reads still out there, as in, when he publishes a new novel, drop what you’ve got and grab a copy. His previous novel, Divisadero, was seen as a return to form by many after Anil’s Ghost, probably his weakest novel.

For those eager to brush up on their Ondaatje, The Quarterly Conversation’s review of Divisadero is a good place to start:

Divisadero is “about” many things, but especially about identity and the mysteries of who exactly we are. “How many things could you throw your image against?” Anna asks, recalling the abstract photographs her father had taken of shadows and reflections. If Divisadero were the answer to her question, than the response would be, “everything.” Early on, we are told “There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross.” The details of the past reappear in the present and the details of others reappear in ourselves.

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What sort of return to form? I loved Coming Through Slaughter and The Skin of a Lion, but The English Patient, though it was beautiful and wonderful, had a lot less of the stylistic specifics that drew me to Ondaatje and I didn’t follow it up with either of his other two novels. So if return to form means The English Patient, I might read it someday, but if this new one takes on a rhythm and fracturedness closer to his earlier ones, I’m down on day one, right after I finish Divisadero.

The 5 novels in 35 years stat reminds me of Norman Rush. Hasn’t he been working on a novel based in the U.S. for years now?

At any rate, any new Ondaatje is welcome on my TBR pile.

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