"THE CAT'S TABLE." By Michael Ondaatje. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.
Eleven-year-old Michael has no expectations for his three-week journey from Ceylon to England, where he will attend a new school. His uncle and aunt, whom he lives with, do not make a big deal about it. He's not given any advance details about the ship he'll be on, doesn't know how big it is or how many passengers it will hold. He doesn't even know that his distant cousin Emily will be aboard. All he knows, really, is that he is supposed to meet his mother when the ship finally docks, and he wonders if she will be there.