Kimbofo reviews The Cat’s Table; Trevor reviews Solitaria

My fellow Shadow Giller jurors are up and reading so I’ll offer the opening paragraphs of their reviews as a taste to encourage you to visit their sites.

Kimbofo has started out with Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table (her full review is here) and, I think, has captured the mid-book “shift” the author puts into his novel.

UK cover


Going by the cover image of the UK edition of Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table — the Canadian version is slightly more understated — anyone would think this was a story set on a ship. In fact, if you read the first 100 or so pages of this novel you’d probably think this was a fair assumption to make.

But Ondaatje gives the book a twist mid-way through, which suggests this story is really about the transformative journey we all make from childhood to adulthood. The ship is merely a metaphor for a rite of passage.

Canadian cover

In some ways, The Cat’s Table is a novel of two halves. The first is set on an ocean-liner — the Oronsay — bound for England from Ceylon (before it became Sri Lanka) in the early 1950s, and the second is the long-lasting effect that three-week journey had on an 11-year-old boy, who made the trip alone to be with the London-based mother he hadn’t seen for several years.

You can find my review of The Cat’s Table here. And for another take, dovegreyreader’s is here. As usual, Ondaatje provokes some different responses.

Trevor, meanwhile, started with one of the small press titles, Genni Gunn’s Solitaria:

Genni Gunn


There weren’t many Giller Prize longlisted titles available in the United States when the list was announced, but one you can get for the Kindle is Genni Gunn’s trip into a family’s history, Solitaria (2011). Gunn has written two other novels and two collections of short stories (and some poetry, and even an opera). She was born in Trieste, Italy (and has also translated a couple of books of Italian poetry), and in Solitaria she takes a Canadian with Italian heritage back to Italy to learn about his past.

The book is set in the midsummer of 2002. As it opens, we wander through a dilapidated Italian villa that is finally being restored:

Once, this villa was the pride of its owners, nestled in a sprawling lot facing the Tyrrhenian Sea, surrounded by palms and oleanders on manicured lawns where children played and cats sunned themselves. Over time, the children grew and moved to the cities. When the owners died, the villa was sold to foreigners who came only in summer. In the winter months, small boys climbed over the fence and played in the tall grass no one tended. Sometimes, they built fires on the beach, and tried to pry open the green shutters. The villa was sold and resold, neglected and abandoned by owner after owner, none of whom lived there.

As you can tell from the excerpts, we do face some challenges in getting copies to our international jurors (Alison Gzowski has been doing a fair bit of shopping and shipping to get the short story collections to our expert on that format in New Jersey) but we are sorting that out. I’m happy to report that all 17 have now arrived at my door — if I can borrow the title from the WordFest project that Mrs. KfC and I are supporting, it is time for me to Read, Write, Review!

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2 Responses to “Kimbofo reviews The Cat’s Table; Trevor reviews Solitaria”

  1. gina c in al Says:

    The UK cover may be a poster for the Empress of Britain. The 30s style and the paint scheme of the liner are distinctive.

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Gina: The UK cover image does seem to be a reversed version of that on the cover of Gordon Turner’s book about the Empress of Britain.

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