Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Jessica Grant's "Come, Thou Tortoise" (a review)

"I would not say no to a tortoise."

Generally speaking, books don't usually make me feel feelings.  I don't get scared at the scary parts, I don't laugh out loud at the funny parts and I certainly don't get all weepy at the sad parts.  Maybe this makes me a monster.  Or maybe I'm just a cool customer.  Or maybe I'm far too aware that fiction is fiction, and in fact not real.  I'm not really sure. 

But what I do know is that if a book DOES make me feel something, then usually it is a damn good book.

Newfoundland author Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise is in fact one of these few damn good books. 

Set in Portland and Newfoundland, Tortoise tells the story of a young woman "of low IQ" named Audrey who is called home when her father falls into a coma.  Forced to leave her pet tortoise behind, the story is told through the perspectives of both Audrey and Winnifred the tortoise.  Without giving too much away, their adventures become a heartbreaking yet uplifting story about varying degrees of the truth, change, and the nature of family.

Reading the sections told from Audrey's perspective are incredibly interesting.  The language style of her character does not use question marks, proper capitalization or quotation marks.  And while I found this type of style to be completely aggravating in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, in the case of Tortoise it just seems to fit so well.  I think in Haddon's case it just seemed so contrived, whereas the voice of Audrey comes through with so much clarity even without punctuation to indicate internal dialogue vs. spoken elements.

Tortoise is truly funny.  Audrey's literal interpretations of almost everything couple well with the bizarre cast of family and neighbours that inhabit her world.  Her misunderstandings are the fodder for many of the most humorous moments, although Winnifred the tortoise seems also to have a bit of an acerbic wit about her.  But the book is also incredibly poignant.  The full scale of the affection that Audrey's family and friends hold for her is only slowly revealed over the course of the work, but by the end I was full of very rare feelings about this work.  There are moments in this story with so much pathos; moments where Audrey could easily give up.  The incredible honesty and stubbornness in her character in these moments of true despair was very inspiring.  I haven't rooted for a character this much in a long time.  Jessica Grant does an amazing job of really pulling in the reader to not only an interesting story but into the mind of a brave young woman who seems so very nearly real by the end of the story.  And thankfully (I think it would have broke my heart if it hadn't!) Tortoise ends on a happy note.

I haven't been able to think of a single meaningful criticism for this work.  And so I don't think I will criticize at all this time around.  Jessica Grant has crafted a story that is amusing, compelling and very moving.  I would recommend this book to just about everyone.  Try reading the first chapter, and by the time Audrey has locked herself an airplane's bathroom after stealing the gun from an air marshal, you won't be able to put it down.

And for those of you who have already read Come, Thou Tortoise... be Qantas.

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