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About the book
  • Published: 1 July 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099554424
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $26.99

The Cat's Table

From the acclaimed author of The English Patient and Divisadero: a stunningly beautiful
and moving new novel about a boy's life-changing journey from Ceylon to England in the 1950s.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England – a ‘castle that was to cross the sea’. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘Cat's Table’ with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, ‘bursting all over the place like freed mercury’. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner – his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.

As the narrative moves from the decks and holds of the ship and the boy’s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story about the difference between the magical openness of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding – about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage, when all on board were ‘free of the realities of the earth’.

With the ocean liner a brilliant microcosm for the floating dream of childhood, The Cat’s Table is a vivid, poignant and thrilling book, full of Ondaatje’s trademark set-pieces and breathtaking images: a story told with a child’s sense of wonder by a novelist at the very height of his powers.

  • Pub date: 1 July 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099554424
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $26.99

About the Author

Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje is the author of several novels, as well as a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. Among his many Canadian and international recognitions, his novel The English Patient won the 1992 Man Booker Prize, was adapted into a multi-award winning Oscar movie, and was awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize in 2018; Anil’s Ghost won the Giller Prize, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Prix Médicis; and Warlight was longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje lives in Toronto.

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Praise for The Cat's Table

“One of the most admirable and enthralling literary novels of the year”

Daily Mail



“Superbly poised between the magic of innocence and the melancholy of experience”

The Economist

“Michael Ondaatje's impressive new novel, containing dreams and fantasy between a ship's flanks...is, in the most etymological way, a wonderful novel: one full of wonders”

Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph

“Atmospheric, elegiac and at times, like Ondaatje's most famous novel, The English Patient, unbearably poignant”

Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler

“I love this book: the boys running wild on the long sea voyage, the slow revelation of the adult world they don't fully understand, the loss of the past and the beginning of the future, and even a sort of thriller in there! And the beauty of the sentences. Perfection”

Salman Rushdie


Financial Times

“Part memoir, complete masterpiece... Written with tenderness, wisdom and sharp emotional recall, this is an exuberant elegy to innocence”

Maggie Fergusson, Intelligent Life

“Grave and playful at the same time, beautifully written and moving”

The Times

“It's impossible to explain through any discussion of plot and character the hypnotic brilliance of The Cat's Table. The joy of boyhood and the darkness at its edges are conveyed in sense of extraordinary imagination... It is entirely...well, Ondaatje-esque”

Kamila Shamsie, Guardian, Books of the Year

“Vividly follows the passage from Ceylon to England of an 10 year-old boy on a line full of eccentric, mysterious passengers”

Ann Saddlemyer, Irish Times, Books of the Year

“Ondaatje's prose, flawless as ever, deals with loneliness, friendship and pre-pubescent love”

Christine Dwyer Hickey, Irish Times, Books of the Year

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