Michael Ondaatje - The Cat's Table (3 stars)

An adventurous coming-of-age tale

Michael Ondaatje - The Cat's Table

(Jonathan Cape)

‘Over the years, confusing fragments, lost corners of stories, have a clearer meaning when seen in a new light, a different place.’ From the decks and holds of the Oronsay, as seen by a Michael and his two mischievous young friends, to the rockier shores of adulthood and the harsh understandings those intervening years bring, Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table is a boy’s own adventure story, hymn to childhood and coming-of-age tale all rolled into one.

Bound for England from Ceylon in the 1950s, there are ‘constant palavars’ – magical dogs, floating gardens and cyclonic storms, love and death – as well as the life lessons learned from the strangers on board. Fictional, despite the colourings of memoir and autobiography, it is a rich tale from a boy’s eye view. As if young Michael ate the mangosteen of knowledge and the price was worth paying, this is an exhilarating, colourful diorama of new doors opening into new worlds, tempered by wearied adult understanding but losing none of the wide-eyed joy of first friendships.

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