Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje ......

Image from goodreads.com

I downloaded (and paid for) several books on my iPad simply because they were featured in a "Summer Reading" list in The New Yorker magazine. I love The New Yorker, but it doesn't take long for me to get behind on issues.

This book was among those mentioned, and the first of the group I've read.

I hope the rest of them can live up to this one.

The Cat's Table is about a sea voyage from Sri Lanka to England and the events that occur among the passengers on the ship. The story is told from the point of view of Michael, who was 11 years old when he made the journey to join his mother in England.

I think I would characterize this book as a calm thriller. (I just made that term up. Can I keep it?) There is enough action to keep you turning (swiping?) the page, but it's not the shoot-em-up variety.

The action isn't what makes the book for me, though. It's Ondaatje's command of the English language. There were several instances where I stopped just to let a sentence roll around in my head for a few minutes, sort of like you would savor a piece of chocolate instead of gobbling it down. (If one were capable of such a thing, that is.)

Here are a few examples. They are taken out of context, obviously, but I'm focusing on the language itself.

"Punishment, it turns out, never did train or humble some of us into complete honesty."

"...she breasted her cards about her motive for travelling with them." (I had never considered the word "breast" as a verb before.)

"I could not tell whether everything taking place was carefully legal or a frenzy of criminality."

"So we came to understand that small and important thing, that our lives could be large with interesting strangers who would pass us without any personal involvement."

"For he also had witnessed the people I saw that night, with whom we had felt so oddly aligned, whom we would never see again. Only there. In that night city of another world."

"We keep wanting to save those who are forlorn in this world. It's a male habit, some wish fulfilment."

"There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You discover the carapace that will contain and test your character. You find in this way the path of your life."

"There were four or five cottages overlooking the sea, and she snuggled the car beside one." (One word - "snuggled" - made this a completely different sentence. It could just have easily said "parked," but I prefer the word he used.)

"She said the marriage had been a cautious one, and she had stepped out of it, recognizing it was 'too cold a building' to live in for the rest of her life."

"A twenty-minute ferry ride that felt like an echo, a small rhyme from the past, as my cousin Emily had been to me during this last day and night."

When I downloaded this book, I didn't realize it was by the same man who wrote The English Patient. I haven't read that one either (but I've since downloaded it), and I didn't see the movie. Perhaps I will also watch the movie, but only after I've read the book.

This is definitely worth the read. The characters, the plot, the mystical setting of the ship, everything about this book is top quality.

Usually when I read a book, I think to myself, "I could write that." Not this one. I found myself thinking over and over, "I could never come up with that melodic phrase." What a pleasure to read.

1 comment:

DJan said...

I loved the English Patient, for much the same reasons. I'll have to read this one, B. Thanks for the review. :-)