More on Ondaatje – The Cat’s Table and The English Patient

Finished “The Cat’s Table”. It is pretty good too. Ondaatje is getting better at telling a story now, it seems. Overall i still like Warlight better.

But The Cat’s Table is unique because it talks about the 3-weeks voyage he had when he was 11, going from Ceylon to London, cross Arabian Sea, Red Sea and finally Mediterranean. Because it was an enclosed space, structure of the story resembles “Murder on Oriental Express”, and typical of Ondaatje, how there are moment of luxurious beauty (Kip and Hana admiring the mural painting in the post-war italian church with the help of climbing gear and a torch, Almasy and K at the cave of swimmers, Nathaniel and Agnes in the empty house with the grey hounds, Nathaniel and the Darter on the Thames at night, Nathaniel and his mom play chess in their glass house in the garden,…), in The Cat’s Table, the night when their ocean liner passed through the Suez Canal was breath taking, their first port of call at Aden, the ancient port city was also quite interesting.

I started re-reading The English Patient, and watched the movie again. I realized that i never understood Kip and Hana story because i never understood Kip’s final rage on hearing about Hiroshima, and it was probably also a major failing of the movie to alter it. At the time i was too taken with the Almasy and K story to pay attention to Kip and Hana. So i didn’t mind the Movie took out the real ending, which also made the Kip and Hana story so much weaker than in the book. Now looking back, i realized how powerful it was.
Ondaatje’s speech as he received Gold Booker for The English Patient

So wasn’t the ending of The English Patient, in which the Sikh Kip (whose relationship with the Canadian nurse, Hana, Ondaatje describes as being like “continents meeting”) drops everything and returns home when he hears of the bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a failure of nerve? A reimposition of the nationalisms dissolved through the rest of the novel, where, as Kamila Shamsie put it: “Ondaatje’s imagination acknowledges no borders”?

“They can’t overcome,” says Ondaatje, who remembers that he found the last pages of The English Patient sad to write. It is too difficult for most people; and for Kip, especially, who in the nuclear glare sees suddenly that “they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation”.

Warlight – Michael Ondaatje

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon the fact that Michael Ondaatje has a new novel out, “Warlight”. I went to our local library and put a hold on a copy. It came to me a week ago.

Just started reading Friday after the depressing KavaNo saga came to a close. I needed something beautiful, i thought. I wasn’t disappointed. Just finished reading tonight. It was such a lovely lovely story.

First half was set in post-war London. It is refreshing to read Ondaatje’s signature prose with a urban landscape.

This afternoon when Noah was building combination robots using “plus plus”, I lied on the floor next to him reading this book. As i came across the paragraph where Nathaniel described how he picked lock in the Foreign Office archives (trying to find traces of his mother’s war time deeds), I read that paragraph aloud to Noah. “Wow, Interesting! I like it.” the 8-year-old commented at the end. Then he said something totally surprised me, “is it a poem? It rhymes.”

I always loved the way Ondaatje wrote his prose. The poet in him definitely came through. But this paragraph didn’t really particular seem poetic to me. Somehow the poetry in the prose was so evident that Noah could spot it. I loved that.

It was the veterinarian, the one who had inherited the two parrots, who taught me how to open locks on a filing cabinet. I had met her years earlier through The Darter and she was the only one I had managed to locate from that time. She befriended me on my return to London. I explained my problem and she recommended a powerful anaesthetic used on damaged hooves and bones that I could apply around a lock until a white condensation appeared. The freezing would slow down the lock’s resistance to any trespass and allow me to carry out my next stage of attack. This was a Steinmann pin, which in a more legal world provided skeletal traction and protected the damaged bones of a racing greyhound. The smooth stainless-steel intramedullary pins, petite and efficient, were almost instantly successful, and the locks on the cabinets barely paused before they slipped open with their secrets. I began breaking into the locked files; and, in the usually deserted map room, where I ate my lunch alone, I pulled the borrowed papers out of my shirt and read them. An hour later I returned them to their padlocked homes. If my mother existed in this building, I would discover her.

I loved The English Patient. But that wasn’t an easy book to read. Warlight, on the other hand, managed to keep the beauty of Ondaatje’s prose, yet the story telling was more focused and much easier to read.

As I was browsing reviews on line, I realized Ondaatje also wrote another book i missed, it is called “The Cat’s Table”. Will be reading that now.