In August, we wished faithful book group member Etta Schiller a very happy 100th birthday! Here’s to many more.
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje did not inspire strong “loved it” or “hated it” reactions from the group. The usual poll at the beginning revealed that a few really liked it and a few didn’t, but most participants didn’t vote either way. The novel was meditative and episodic. It was difficult to pick up after time away without losing track of characters.
However, that same criticism also worked in its favor, and a much-admired aspect of the novel was its large, interesting cast of characters. Some topics we discussed were:
- The cast of characters is “given” on any boat, since you’re in a defined space with a defined group. It reminded us of classic tales like Murder on the Orient Express.
- The protagonist’s adult voice was so wistful and the young voice so delightful, they played against each other nicely.
- “Feral children” don’t exist anymore. We constantly watch and overparent the young, but these boys are so happy to be free and adventurous.
- The protagonist’s parents’ divorce is not a strong plot point. Some of us thought his mother traveled to England without him because she didn’t care very much, while others thought the opposite, that she loved him and needed time to make a life for them first.
- Ondaatje’s writing style is engaging, like we were reading his personal travel journal. The adventures and expressions felt authentic (and in fact were occasionally autobiographical).
Ultimately, the novel’s style does not lend itself to fast-paced discussions. It is much more thoughtful and works on the reader over time. So this book is reservedly recommended for book clubs.
Pick up our September book, The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, and join the discussion!