The cat's table

Dans The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje nous raconte le voyage en bateau de Michael, un garçon de 11 ans. Michael, comme les deux garçons avec qui il se lie d'amitié, quitte le Sri Lanka pour aller étudier en Angleterre. Le voyage dure 21 jours pendant lesquels les trois garçons vont découvrir le bateau, observer les adultes, essayer de s'occuper (en fait).

J'ai trouvé certains passages assez drôles.

"ATTENTION STRETCHER PARTY, stretcher party—proceed to badminton court on A deck." We ran to the source of the urgency. This was one of the more interesting announcements we had heard so far from the louspeakers. More often they announced afternoon lectures in the Clyde Room about "The Laying of the Undersea Cables Between Aden and Bombay," or that a Mr. Blackler would speak on "A Recent Reconstruction of Mozart's Piano." Before The Four Feathers had been screened, a chaplain had given a talk titled "The Crusades, Pro and Con: Did England Go Too Far?" Ramadhin and Mr. Fonseka went to that lecture and returned to tell us that apparently the speaker felt the English did not go far enough.


What I noticed most about the English official were his arms, which had curling ginger hair on them, and which I found difficult to look at. He wore ironed shirts and shorts and calf-length socks, but that red hair was disturbing to me, and when during one of the ship's dances he sought out Emily and began a waltz with her I was outraged in an almost paternal way. Even Mr Daniels, I thought, would be better for my beautiful cousin.

Dommage que Michael Ondaatje ait ressenti le besoin d'ajouter une espèce de mystère/aventure pour ajouter du piment (?) à son roman. Je trouve que l'histoire de ses personnages, la découverte du bateau par les trois garçons, étaient suffisantes. Mais il fallait qu'il nous démontre que les enfants avaient été profondément changés par ces 21 jours sur un bateau, comme si quitter son île natale pour aller s'installer en Angleterre (rejoindre sa mère partie plusieurs années auparavant pour Michael) et s'adapter à une nouvelle vie ne pouvait pas expliquer un changement, une évolution. Je trouvais le rythme du roman parfait sans cela. Mais qui suis-je…

This journey was to be an innocent story within the small parameter of my youth, I once told someone. With just three or four children at its centre, on a voyage whose clear map and sure destination would suggest nothing to fear or unravel. For years I barely remembered it.

Je ne connaissais pas l'expression the cat's table qui désigne cette table mal placée où l'on assied les gens qui sont moins populaires, moins importants.

J'ai aimé les passages où Michael évoque son enfance à Colombo. A la lecture de l'un d'entre eux d'ailleurs, j'ai pensé à R.K. Narayan (un de mes auteurs préférés, avec ses magnifiques The Painter of Signs et Swami and Friends, que j'ai lus en français sous les titres Le peintre d'enseignes, et Swami et ses amis). Et justement Michael parle de lui…

Narayan and Gunepala were my essential and affectionate guides during that unformed stage of my life, and in some way they made me question the world I supposedly belonged to. They opened doors for me into another world. When I left the country at the age of eleven, I grieved most over losing them. A thousand years later, I came upon the novels of the Indian writer R. K. Narayan in a London bookstore. I bought every one and imagined they were by my never forgotten friend Narayan. I saw his face behind the sentences, imagined his tall body sitting at a humble desk by his small bedroom window, knocking off a chapter about Malgudi before being called by my aunt to do something or other.


I knew my friend had perceived such details on our morning walks along the High Level Road. I knew the bullock cart driver, I knew the asthmatic who ran the cigarette stall.

J'ai moins aimé la fin lorsque Michael, devenu adulte, reçoit une lettre d'une des passagères et trouve ainsi une explication aux événements qui ont eu lieu sur le bateau.

En conclusion, bon roman que je conseille.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table”—as far from the Captain’s Table as can be—with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults 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 tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: one man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator’s elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself “with a distant eye” for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another Cat’s Table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.

As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy’s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story—by turns poignant and electrifying—about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.