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”.