Published by Knopf Canada, 2009
Reviewed by Colleen McKie
As a Canadian, I am a wee bit partial to books that are not only written by Canadians, but that take place in Canada. I am also a fan of weird, quirky characters and stories. Thankfully Come, Thou tortoise, written by Canadian Jessica Grant, taking place in St. John’s, NFLD and featuring a tortoise as a main character meets all of these prerequisites.
The book centers around Audrey and her tortoise, Winnifred. The two are temporality separated when Audrey has to leave her Portland, Oregon apartment to head back to her hometown of St. John’s NFLD after her father receives a blow to the head and ends up in a coma. Unfortunately her dad succumbs to his injuries before her plane even lands. Her uncle Thoby takes off for England shortly after, leaving Audrey alone to deal with things like clearing out the house and a set of faulty Christmas lights. To cope with the situation, Audrey throws herself into solving a mystery she has stumbled across, using that as a way to avoid dealing with her father’s death.
Interspersed with Audrey’s story is that of Winnifred, who reflects on her life thus far and spends a lot of time wondering if Audrey has abandoned her. While at first the idea of reading the musings of a tortoise was a bit weird, a quarter of the way into the book, I was loving Winnifred and her unique take on things.
I also loved all of the play on words (Audrey often referred to her father as being in a “comma”) that Grant includes throughout the book. Audrey’s thoughts are often jumbled, but Grant writes them so that they appear to flow from one another. The only issue I had with the language in the book is really a technicality and an issue I have had with many other “literary” books: the avoidance of using quotation marks for dialogue. I found it very confusing and distracting at first, but once I got into the characters and the story, it became less of an issue, although I always remained aware of it.
And speaking of the story, it kept me hooked throughout and the ending, while somewhat open (which I LOVE) was a bit of a surprise for me, but in a good way.
Jessica Grant is definitely a writer to read and watch out for and for me Come, Thou Tortoise is up there with Miriam Toews The Flying Troutmans and a Complicated Kindness.
Take a peek inside Come, Thou Tortoise.