Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Talking about The Cat's Table with Michael Ondaatje: It "blossomed like a flower outward"

Yesterday, I was all over the map. You know those days that the expression "well, she really got out of bed on the wrong side" were just made for? I had one of those. At work, I made it through a Herculean pile of tasks with (alternating) panic, mood swings, exhaustion, dark humour and cookies. After work, it was like a cranky, argumentative jerk took over my body, as all the unexpressed frustration at my day came seeping out onto the poor unfortunates who crossed my path.

So, listening to Michael Ondaatje read from The Cat's Table at the Writers Festival last night was like a balm for the soul.

I am not really one to moon over authors (or anyone, for that matter). That being said, Ondaatje has always had a special place in my heart: those eyes! That voice! The sense that he is listening carefully to everything the audience says and actually cares about it! (Did I mention his eyes? Because those of you there last night didn't really get a chance to see them up close, but they are seriously intense).

A good friend of mine has a bit of a thing for Joseph Boyden, so the fact that he was interviewing Ondaatje was kind of oddly simpatico, in terms of dreamy authors, but alas my friend was unable to join me for the evening. I had actually never been to an event featuring Boyden. Apparently, Ondaatje had asked for him to be his interviewer, and I can see why: Boyden's questions were thoughtful and interesting, and were peppered with some humour and gentle ribbing ("So, another thing that pisses me off about you is....")

Some gems from the evening:
  • Boyden admitting he would be hesitant to set a novel on a boat (The characters would do "one lap around and then what?"). He then admitted that the enclosed setting of the novel didn't hinder Ondaatje's work: rather than becoming confined, it "blossomed like a flower outward."
  • Many reviews I have read have mentioned that this is Ondaatje's most accessible work, a choice of words that made me snort with derision a little, I must admit. Boyden touched on this, asking Ondaatje if he felt this was his most approachable work. Ondaatje hedged a bit, suggesting this word might be coming up simply by virtue of the fact that the novel has an 11 year-old protagonist. Boyden added that he has never seen Ondaatje's writing as unapproachable; he said that, as a poet, Ondaatje "grounds his language so specifically" that his words have a certain clarity.
  • Ondaatje on being a poet writing a (longer) novel: "Part of the book is, you know, how do I get out of it?"
  • Ondaatje on the structure of a novel: he described a novel as a sort of collage: this blue goes over here with this green, for instance, in the editing process. In his opinion, character "is the central machine in a book," followed by setting (location and time). I would say that's a good assessment of the two main appeal factors of his work.
As always, a pleasure just to hear Ondaatje's voice. He can read to me any evening.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent character development and story line. I found it to be a page turner that my book club all enjoyed.