Thursday, November 17, 2011

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Come, Thou Tortoise is told in the unforgettable voice of Audrey Flowers, who leaves her tortoise with friends in Oregon when she flies home to Newfoundland after getting word that her father is in a coma. She grew up in St John's with her scientist father, Walter Flowers, and her sweet Uncle Thoby, who has one arm longer than the other. The family had great fun playing with language and puns.

"My dad did sometimes refer to us - the three of us - as the Bouquet. I think the Bouquet should hit the sack, he'd say. The bouquet is wilting. Or at least one Flower is. Speak for yourself, Wilter." Audrey may have a low IQ, but like her father and uncle, she is a master of words: "The Fairfont Hotel greets you with signage so cursive you curse your inability to read it." She meets the lawyer Toff, who is "wearing a purple scarf. Sorry, cravat. Some silk business tucked into his shirt. [..] My dad used to have an expression for a flamboyant dresser: Christmas on a stick. I'm sorry but a purple cravat is flamboyant."

At one point, Audrey cannot get into her house because the doorknob broke off. She goes to her neighbour for help, still holding the doorknob, and they call a locksmith. "On the table, the brass doorknob looks amazed to be reflecting the inside of someone's house. It lies on its side like it has fainted." (I was very sympathetic, since the doorknob to my front door broke off earlier this year. Unlike Audrey, I have another door that enabled access while I waited to repair the knob.)

Audrey grieves for her father, sorts through family secrets and frets about her tortoise in the most hilarious manner. Occasionally, the narrative switches to the voice of Winnifred the tortoise, who puts up with such indignities as being used as a bookmark while she waits for Audrey to return. Winnifred loves to sit on the dashboard when she travels in a car. (She is much smaller than Mrs. Cook, the tortoise in The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.)

I would not say no to another book by Jessica Grant.


Claire at Latitude said...

I was tantalised by the cover and title for this book earlier today on the teaser for your reads on Shelfari, to the extent that I looked it up elsewhere and found - unfortunately - a VERY negative review in the Guardian. The reviewer, Lucy Ellman, found it too sweet to stomach. Yet I don't think of YOU as an enjoyer of sentiment. Any thoughts on this?

Lindy said...

I agree with reviewer Lucy Ellman that the book is “boldly energetic and playful” and “the heroines (human and reptilian) endearing.” Ellman claims “The trouble is, everybody's so nice.” I’m happy to read about nice people, as long as they are interesting. I especially disagree Ellman on this point: "It's doubtful whether Audrey ever fully absorbs the fact that her father was gay." Audrey clearly absorbed the nature of her father’s relationship with Thoby when she saw them secretly holding hands, back when she was still a child. Anyway, Claire, to answer your question about sentiment, I found the poignancy balanced the sweetness. And I ADORED Winnifred. Her voice reminded me of the pavilion's voice in Please Ignore Vera Dietz.