I adore Michael Ondaatje's writing, and this book didn't disappoint in any way, yet it took me a full five months to finish a book that should have taken me three days, and it would have taken me that long a year ago.
Over the last five years, I found book reading became an obsession bordering on addiction. I was reading a minimum of one hundred books a year, and that didn't even include the massive amount of comics I was reading (every Marvel title, most DC titles and a goodly amount of Dark Horse and Image with a sprinkling of Boom and others). I was writing a review of every book I read. I was engaged in multiple online book clubs in our favourite censorship destroyed social media book site, and there seemed to be no end in site. Last summer, though, I started pulling away from the book sites (prompted by some personal issues then solidified by my ethical stance), and by fall i was struggling to reread the books I was teaching that semester, so much so that I found myself cheating by pouring over old notes rather than making a fresh reading of the words I have loved so much for so long. But the real problem was that I couldn't even start to read anything else.
I went through about ten books, reading the first page or the first chapter before tossing it away, and finally settled on Ondaatje's The Cat's Table. It's taken five months to finish this book, and the only thing I've been able to finish during that period is my comics. Why has it taken so long? What has happened to me? Burn out mostly, a massive, overwhelming, ass kicking energy drain. I pick up a new book, or I opened The Cat's Table, and all I felt was mental fatigue and an aversion to the words of others. Even beautiful words like Ondaatje's.
I think it is a testament to Ondaatje that I kept reading, and The Cat's Table is a damn fine book. It is not as tortured as Divisadero or as poetic as The English Patient or as passionate as Anil's Ghost, but it is a lovely little pseudo-memoir that is full of gorgeous little surprises, a travelogue through a time, through colliding cultures, through a world that never existed but existed all the same. I read it so sporadically that all I have left are impressions of moments, but I think that might very well be why I finished this book: it is made up of moments, just moments, bound together by the Oronosay, the ship the take from Sri Lanka to England, but still moments, still slivers of time cut out of a journey. This kind of fragmentation is always an element of Ondaatje's writing, but here I necessarily made it a part of my reading. I think I met The Cat's Table at just the right moment.
So will I go back to reading the way I used to? I dunno. I am still pretty burnt out. I am rereading Murder on the Orient Express with my daughter, but that is mostly to have fun with her and support her, so I blast through each chapter after she is finished so we can talk. I have had a nice trade off, though. I have lost reading but I've regained writing, despite my complete and utter lack of time. I am writing every day, and writing creatively, not just writing these reviews that no one sees (not that anyone is seeing my creative writing), and that is a trade I am willing to make.