Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant is a Can’t-Put-It-Down-Neglect-The-Saturday-Chores kind of book. Grant’s debut novel is making quite a splash.
From the moment Audrey (Oddly) flowers disarms a US Marshall on board an international flight, I was hooked. Audrey is one the most delightful characters I have encountered. She is a leapling and has, as such, only had six birthdays. She is both young woman and child at once. Charmingly naive, she is concerned with her so-called low IQ, but at the same time displays keen and insightful observation. Audrey is living in Oregon, making her way in the world with her pet tortoise, when she learns that her father has been hit in the head by a Christmas tree and is in a coma. Alas, she is too late. Her father, Walter Flowers, succumbs to his Christmas tree related injuries.
Come, Thou Tortoise explores both the comedy and tragedy of life. Although concerned so much with death, this is not a sad book. Kindness rules. Kind Uncle Thoby is a second father to Audrey. He is the sort who is hurt when you are unkind to others. The neighbourhood is kind. Out of respect for the strange circumstances of Walter’s death, the neighbours do not turn on their Christmas lights. Audrey loves them for this.
This is a novel about fathers and daughters and unconventional families. They, like most families, have their secret family language. Language and word play is so important in this novel. Audrey says that Walter is in a comma, rather than a coma. Much more appropriate as he has merely paused. Her carry on luggage is her carrion luggage. And for St. John’s residents and ex-pats she lives on Wednesday Pond, enjoys the delicious aroma of Piety Factories and has a experience near the prison on Quite-A-Bite-Of-Lake.
Winnifred the tortoise, a major player in this novel, cannot be overlooked. Winnifred is opinionated, especially about her care, and sometimes overbearing. She is perhaps as much as 300 years old and has been passed from owner to owner. Once she bonds, she loves deeply. Audrey must leave her behind when she rushes home to her father and Winnifred worries. Winnifred worries about her comfort and care, and worries that the time will come that she will have to accept that Audrey won’t return.
Come, Thou Tortoise has been much in the news lately. It was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, winner of the National Post Canada Also Reads and winner of the 2009 Winterset award. This prestigious award goes to the best book (regardless of genre) written by a Newfoundlander. Well deserved.
And for fun, other books which feature animals with their own mind and voice:
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe – “Dawn’s only source of security and comfort, it seems, is Chuck, a pit-bull mix from the pound. So, when her boyfriend announces that he’s leaving her for another woman, a despairing Dawn turns to Chuck for solace. “I should have said something sooner,” Chuck confides, as he tries to console her. “Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?” Dawn is stunned. It’s one thing to talk to your pets, but what do you do when they start talking back? It’s not just Chuck, either; she can hear all dogs–and man’s best friend has a lot to say. The ever-enthusiastic Chuck offers his tried-and-true advice on the merits of knocking over garbage and strewing it everywhere, auxiliary competitive peeing etiquette, and the curative powers of tossing a ball.” – book jacket
Nose Down, Eyes Up by Merrill Markoe – “At forty-seven, Gil has reached a relatively happy period in his life as the world’s oldest twenty-two-year-old man. In exchange for doing the odd carpentry and construction job, he gets paid to live rent-free in Los Angeles at the glorious summerhouse of rich retirees who are never there. It’s a world of solitary splendor spent mainly in the company of his four dogs, Cheney, Fruity, Dinky, and Jimmy, the alpha and the only one of the four that Gil has raised from a pup. Because Gil is the kind of guy who understands his dogs far better than he understands any of the people in his life–including his girlfriend, Sara, who is an “animal communicator” (albeit one that the dogs make fun of)–he is not particularly surprised when he stumbles upon Jimmy delivering lectures on canine manipulative techniques to the rest of the dogs in the neighborhood. (For example, the always effective “Nose down, eyes up” is a surefire path to permission to sleep on the bed.)” – book jacket
A Year of Cats and Dogs by Margaret Hawkins – “Even as Maryanne’s world slows down and comes apart, curious revelations begin to emerge about the daily life she’s formerly taken for granted as she breaks up with her boyfriend, quits her job as a writer of smarmy collectibles copy, searches for meaning in the I Ching and any other philosophy in which she can find comfort and discovers she can hear the thoughts of animals, starting with her own opinionated dog and cat. Then the veterinarian at the animal shelter where she volunteers offers her a job as a dog whisperer … and asks her on a date to his mother’s funeral.” – book jacket