Wednesday, February 23, 2011

“Come Thou Tortoise” by Jessica Grant, reviewed by Jamie Turner

Vintage Canada, 412 pages
For a quirky adventure that leaves lingering awe long after you’ve finished reading it, treat yourself to Jessica Grant’s, Come Thou Tortoise.

Audrey Flowers (a.k.a Oddly) has been living in Oregon with her pet tortoise, Winifred, when she finds out her father has been knocked into a coma. Despite her fear of flying, Audrey boards a plane for Newfoundland and travels back home.

During the plane ride Audrey suspects her seatmate of being a terrorist, chiefly because he is reading yet not turning the pages of a Shirley MacLaine book. MacLaine’s “a good writer,” Audrey theorizes, “so what’s up?”

Audrey spots a gun under the man’s jacket. She heroically steals it and locks herself in the washroom –to be told only minutes later (through the washroom door) that she’s just disarmed an air marshal and could she kindly come out and return his weapon?

From this point on, the story just gets whacky and funnier. Get ready to laugh. With a mouse that never dies, a fruit fly with a passion for toothpaste and a peeled orange that has a name, Grant lays out a buffet of hilarious antics.

But what makes this book so extraordinary is that it’s just as poignant and moving as it is funny. Yes, the antics are hilarious, but always prevalent is an underlying theme of the unconditional support that comes with family. Audrey’s relationship with her father and Uncle Thoby is so achingly tender it can take your breath away. This book is about love. Lots and lots of it.

Occasionally the narrative switches to Audrey’s pet tortoise, Winifred. In the course of a long, “perhaps 300 year” lifespan, Winnifred has lived in a homemade castle, enjoyed rides on warm car dashboards and found herself in the pages of a Shakespearean play.

Grant’s writing is masterful. She captures entire characters and situations with mere snippets. Anger is expressed simply as “Accent-grave eyebrows.” Misspelled and misused words, with the occasional childlike drawing, make this book an art form.

From beginning to an end that reveals a family secret so subtly that it almost dares the reader to miss it, this book is astoundingly unique. Take the plunge and enter this world Jessica Grant has created. It is more than a read, it’s an experience.

Jamie Turner lives in Burlington, Ontario, where she enjoys books of all kinds. Her passion for writing has been awakened by the fun and supportive environment of Brian Henry's creative writing class. When she doesn't have a novel in front of her Jamie can be found in the kitchen with a cookbook instead, whipping up healthy delights – sweet and savoury alike.

For information about Brian Henry's creative writing courses and writing workshops, see here.

1 comment:

  1. Come Thou Tortoise is one of my all-time favourite books. In fact, when I joined a new Book Club, this was my first pick. As I read it, I was quite proud of my choice, but was shocked to learn that only 2 of our 10 members liked it. The others said they were unable to finish, complaining that they wanted to add punctuation. I LOVED it and thought she had a brilliant and quirky style! I'm glad to know that there are others out there who also appreciated this amazing work.

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