The novel begins in the 1950s in Colombo Sri Lanka where a young boy sets out on an ocean voyage on a cruise liner to join his relatives in London. He is assigned to eat at what is know as the "Cat's Table". It is the the lowest prestige table in the dining room, the furthest from the Captain's table. Also assigned to the table are two other young boys traveling alone, our narrator has a relative in first class who sort of looks out for him, and a collection of passengers of the lowest status. Part of the book, the most interesting part by far, was about the adventures of the young man and the two other boys while on the cruise. The novel also flashes forward in the life of the narrator, who has become a successful writer. One of the other boys becomes a well known artist.
I found the off ship portions of the book disappointing, the adult lives of the boys seemed almost like cliches and did not interest me very much. There are parts of the book that are brilliant but over all I found it disappointing. The book started great and if it would have stayed on the ship or flash backs to Sri Lanka I would have liked it a lot more. I also found the adults on the ship to be stock characters out of a Grand Hotel type movie.
If are you crazy for the author and like Mr Peterman a lot of people are then give this book a try. Otherwise unless you can get a free copy I do not endorse buying it.
Please share your experience with Ondaatje with us. Do you side with Elaine or Mr. Peterman?