Friday, August 20, 2010

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel
Title:  The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise
Author:  Julia Stuart
Publisher:  Doubleday
Publication Date:  August 2010
Format:  Hardcover, 304 pages
Age Group:  Adult

Usually I write my own little summary of the books I am reviewing.  However, as I am finding The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise difficult to reduce, I'm sharing the summary from Goodreads:
Brimming with charm and whimsy, this exquisite novel set in the Tower of London has the transportive qualities and delightful magic of the contemporary classics Chocolat and Amélie.

Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s right, he is a Beefeater (they really do live there). It’s no easy job living and working in the tourist attraction in present-day London.

Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens a series of principled erot­ica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens.

When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interest­ing. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away.

Filled with the humor and heart that calls to mind the delight­ful novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and the charm and beauty of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a magical, wholly origi­nal novel whose irresistible characters will stay with you long after you turn the stunning last page.
My Review:

I found this book to be very slow going at first.  The long descriptive passages with no dialogue or even action seemed to violate the writer's rule of 'show don't tell.'  The skipping around between past and present and between characters with no warning was often unsettling and disorienting.  I would just find myself being pulled into the life of one character when I was suddenly thrust headlong into a different scene all together.

Many of the characters in the book were intriguing with their various quirks and charms.  However, I just couldn't understand how some of them fit into the main story.  There seemed to be many little side-stories along the main one of Balthazar Jones and his wife, Hebe.  I kept waiting for a stronger connection between them but in some cases those connections never appeared.  Some of them simply felt unfinished at the end of the book.  In fact, I was even wondering whether a main question was going to be answered as I was getting to the final few pages of the book.  Luckily it was.

Despite the difficulties that I had with this book, I did end up enjoying it.  It certainly isn't one that I will read again and I definitely wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

I received a copy of The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise from the Early Review program at LibraryThing with the expectation that I would provide an honest review.

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