A Review: The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
I was initially drawn to The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise when I spotted the cover art on a new release email ages and ages ago. I added it to my enormous TBR list on Goodreads and didn't think much about it. Recently, however, I started going through the list and choosing titles pick up at the library, and this just happened to make the cut. When I read that it was compared to Amelie (one of my favorite movies ever) and pretty much anything by Wes Anderson, I had a good feeling.
Balthazar and Hebe Jones (and their 180-year-old tortoise) live in the Tower of London on account of Balthazar's job as a Beefeater. Once responsible for the keeping of the prisoners (and some acts of torture), present day Warders provide their extensive knowledge of the Tower's intense history in the form of a tour guide (apparently all employed at the Tower of London live in the space in the non-fiction world). Sharing the Salt Tower, a space with circular walls that don't making decorating too easy, Hebe and Balthazar carry on a painfully silent existence after the loss of their young son, Milo. Meanwhile, Balthazar is dealing with the responsibilities that come with the Queen's decision to appoint him overseer of the Royal Menagerie on the Tower grounds.
This well-developed cast of characters is quite entertaining. The Reverend writing erotic fiction under a female pen name. Valerie, Hebe's co-worker and best friend, reading mystery novels borrowed from the office and quietly replacing them each morning. The tattooed train officer who manages to visit Valerie at the most inconvenient times. And so on...
I found myself laughing aloud and struggling to hold back tears. The prose evoked the feelings I had when I first encountered the depth and magic of Nicole Krauss's The History of Love. I'll admit that I expected a novel of fluff, something fun to add a little laugh to my life, but found it offered so much more. Stuart is truly a talented writer who makes actions seem so natural to the characters despite the absurdity. The struggle to maintain a relationship despite loss added a serious tone that really added necessary balance without seeming like just another abused plot device. While the events leading up to the transferring of the animals from the London Zoo, and all events dealing with the animals thereafter were completely farfetched, I feel it added a sense of imagination I hadn't felt since I was a child. A time when anything was possible.
If you haven't given The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise a chance, please do. I don't think you'll regret it. I loved it!