The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
This novel could have been entitled Michael’s Big Adventure, the story of an eleven-year-old British boy who takes a trip home alone from Ceylon, to be reunited with his mother in England, aboard a coal-fired steamer in the 1950s. Along the way he meets and befriends a number of people who are relegated to the less desirable “cat’s table” area of the ship’s mess. Michael and another boy who is headstrong and defiant get into lots of mischief and basically drive the captain crazy. Michael becomes enamored of Emily, the only girl his age, who is so much more mature than Michael. There are many areas below decks that are explored and found full of enchanting things, like gardens, hellish boiler rooms decorated with lurid murals, and a brig containing a mysterious prisoner. Along with the voyage we see the characters later in their lives and learn how the journey became for them a treasured memory of youthful hijinks and sad denouements. I enjoyed this book, although it did not always hold my interest.