ToB: Swamplandia! vs The Cat’s Table

[Note: This was written yesterday for that day’s round.  Today’s round saw the inevitable victory of the Marriage Plot which I shall discuss on Thursday, along with whatever has happens between now and then]

So, as you may have read, Fay’s going off to Europe for six months, aka being a white person, thus leaving you in my many pairs of capable hands.  Some of those I used to read both of today’s books!  Also: my eyeballs.

So, I’m going to say it up front I actually preferred reading The Cat’s Table to Swamplandia!.  I have less to say about

both of them than yesterday (I’m saving them for when I WORDDESTROY The Marriage Plot [though it will win

tomorrow, there couldn’t be a more uneven match up]) but I can tell you this: Swamplandia! is the best title of the tournament, the best title MAYBE EVER?  I want to name my firstborn Swamplandia!.   Swamplandia! Helfenbaum.  When the book came out there was a bunch of Swamplandia! mania in the U.S. but it never really travelled here (though I can order it in for you for a cheap $19.95!).  Anyway, the book tells the story of Ava Bigtree, the youngest daughter of Hilola and the Chief, alligator wrestlers at the Swamplandia! theme park.  Ava’s mother recently died, and her father leaves for the mainland in an attempt to keep struggling to keep the park afloat.  Older brother Kiwi leaves to join a rival theme park, in order to achieve that same goal, while middle sister Osceola disappears to join her ghost lover in marriage.  Swamplandia! follows Ava and Kiwi in parallel narratives and is a clever, magical realism (or, POTENTIAL SPOILER: fake magical realism) twist on a coming of age tale.  (YOU KNOW WHAT if you want a better summary just go to today’s link). By turns whimsical and (VERY) dark, Russell’s writing is terrific.   Yes the ending was basically a deus ex machina (though SUPER SPOILER DON’T READ THE AGAIN UNTIL THE END OF THESE PARENTHESES, you know, it still ends super sadly) as a bunch of folks have complained, but I didn’t mind.

The book is clever, mysterious, funny and sad.  WHICH SHOULD BE ENOUGH so the problem’s probably mine but I just didn’t FEEL it as much as everyone else seemed to.  Which is weak reviewing but that’s the truth.  My only less meaningless complaint is that I found myself skimming Kiwi’s sections, so concerned was I for Ava.  And that’s totes kinda a compliment!  Anyway, I totes want to read it again so I can get what I’m missing.

Whereas The Cat’s Table I very much did feel.  IN MY PANTS.  Lol jk it’s about an 11 year old boy ew.  Set largely on a ship travelling from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to England, the book is narrated by Mynah as an adult, but recalling the point of view he had then, as a young boy.  As mentioned, not much happens (at least till near the end).  Adventures are had with two other boys, we get to know a vivid cast of characters and we get to read Ondaatje’s beautiful, lyrical wordstylez.  It’s a really lovely, poignant book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read with their face.  I have very little else to say about it though.

I suppose in many ways Swamplandia! deserved to win.  It’s more new, exciting and ambitious but I just couldn’t help liking The Cat’s Table more.

And that, as they say, is the bookz

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