The story is narrated by Michael, an eleven year old boy who had been put on a ship for a three week journey to England to be with his mother, who he had not seen for years. Michael was seated at the "cat's table" for his meals, along with two other young boys who were also traveling alone to England. The boys did not know each other before the journey, but by the end of the three weeks, the trip became part of the makeup of their lives. The cat's table was for "insignificant" people on the ship. There are also some adults seated at the cat's table. For three weeks, the boys shared adventures and lessons learned on the ship, as it traveled to England. I didn't find their journey to be especially interesting, although others in my book group found it fascinating, so don't just go by my observation!
I did, however, find the aftermath of the journey very interesting, with Michael as an adult trying to sort out what the three week journey meant for him and how it affected his life. It was at this point that I began to really appreciate the author's writing...it was beautiful:
"I am someone who has a cold heart. If I am beside a great grief I throw barriers up so the loss cannot go too deep or too far. There is a wall instantly in place, and it will not fall. Proust has this line: We think we not longer love our dead, but...suddenly we catch sight again of an old glove and burst into tears."
"Some events take a lifetime to reveal their damage and influence."
"We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to loosen and untie."
Great writing, don't you think?
Do I recommend the book? I do, if only for the great writing in the second half of it. I would love to hear how others felt about this book.
Just a side note: this is the same author who wrote The English Patient.