The Cat’s Table

My review of Michael Ondaatje new novel, The Cat’s Table, ran on Friday at The National.

It’s another fine book from Ondaatje, an author who has been remarkably consistent, insofar as I’ve read him.

As a grown man in London, Michael, narrator of The Cat’s Table, attends an exhibition of paintings made by Cassius, whom he knew as a young boy when they were passengers from India to Britain on the Oronsay. The paintings, Michael reflects, remind him of photographs made by Jacques Henri Lartigue, noteworthy for being from “the natural angle of a small boy with a camera looking up at the adults he was photographing.”

Cassius’s paintings are also from the angle of a small boy – they are of things he saw while on board the Oronsay – but these views are supplemented by the years of memory and painterly skill grown up around them as Cassius has become an adult. The Cat’s Table, a heavily autobiographical novel that Ondaatje insists is not a memoir, is a literary version of these paintings, one that will not only show us the views of a child recollected by an adult memory but will also dive into the space in between.

The book begins with young Michael stepping aboard the Oronsay in Colombo and ends with him stepping off in London, but in the intervening 300 pages Ondaatje will, in typical fashion, travel widely. . . .

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