Narrated by the adult Michael, who traveled alone to England to rejoin his mother at the age of eleven years old, this novel is an unusual combination of thoughtful character sketch and mischievious exploration. Michael quickly teams up with two other boys his age who are also relegated to the "cat's table," the table farthest from the captain's table and the three boys scamper around the ship having capers, learning about their fellow passengers, and just generally being unsupervised boys. The short vignette-like chapters also focus occasionally on the other, adult members of the cat's table and the things that the boys learn about and from them.
There's a dreamlike, muted feel to the shipboard life the boys lead and Ondaatje captures their innocence and curiousity beautifully. The journey narrative is occasionally broken with chapters that give small glimpses into life post-journey for Michael, Cassius, and Ramadhin and which offer brief insights into the future of who these boys became and how this seemingly transitory, in several senses, journey undeniably and permanently shaped each of their adult selves. The writing is rich and meditative and the novel is well worth the read.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me this book to review.