Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje

I have not read The English Patient, but it should arrive in a couple of days, so I guess I'll just have to be patient (wah-wah). My mother, however, in a wonderful act of literary enablement purchased two books for me about a month ago.

Studio is over. I have one final exam. Let the reading begin!!!!!

Yesterday (Tuesday, Nov. 29), I had a migraine, most likely caused by a serious lack of quality sleep prior to my final project submission in studio and the sudden draining of adrenaline from my system, ditto. I stayed in bed all day and subsisted on gluten-free blueberry waffles and Greek yogurt and hot chocolate.

And I read, Dear Reader! Oh! How I read!

I read Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for weeks, beckoning me with its come-hither book-jacket, seducing me with the promise of what lay hidden beneath said book-jacket, and occasionally falling to the floor in a pathetic bid for attention. After playing hard to get, I finally succumbed to its promises, yesterday.

And promptly read the whole thing.

As expected from a Booker Prize winner, The Cat's Table is beautifully written and (I'm getting ready to use one of my most over-used words, here) compelling. I couldn't put it down. It is, in fact, the reason I took a bath, yesterday, in lieu of a shower: it's difficult to read in the shower, but oh so easy in the bathtub.

I sacrificed hair hygiene for a book! That is not a common occurrence.

The story follows a young boy (Michael) and two other boys who are traveling alone from present-day Sri Lanka to England. They get into all sorts of trouble, on board, and are charmed by the other passengers assigned to sit at the dinner table of least prominence in the dining hall, also know as the Cat's Table.

Over the course of the journey, the reader discovers that the people on board are not what they appear to be: the lonely old (not so old) spinster is most likely an agent for MI5, and the kindly botanist who has a crush on Michael's cousin smokes pot in the hold of the ship. There is a prisoner, on board, who the boys observe secretly when he comes out from the hold at night for his daily walk above-deck, dressed in leg-irons and manacles to prevent the criminal from escaping.

The effects of the journey stay with Michael, later in life, and the story is told from his vantage point as a grown man with one failed marriage behind him, who still clings to the idealized person of his older female cousin, Emily, who perhaps had the greatest secret of everyone on board.

I recommend it. Highly.

On the strength of its impression on me, I even ordered The English Patient (also written by Ondaatje, and winner of the Booker Prize). It should be here in a couple of days, by which point I'll have worked my way through Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, which I'm also enjoying. I'll give a review of it, after it's finished.

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