Canada is cool…in more ways than one. I grew up about 2 hours south of the Great White North and dreamed about moving there more than once. It was the home of most of my family’s summer getaways. In the fall, we went south to Disney; in the summer, we want north to Canada. Toronto, being the closest city to home, was usually where we headed. When I was younger, the Toronto theaters were home to Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast. It holds the Hockey Hall of Fame, the CN Tower and a fantastic zoo. Niagara Falls is also helpfully along the way so we’d often stop to take in the falls as we headed towards the city (always from the Canadian side; the American side is just sad). There, just behind the ledge overlooking the falls was a store full of Anne of Green Gables merchandise I know Mom bought more than one Christmas gift for me there. Because of my Dad being who he is though, we did head further north once or twice. Montreal is home of the fabled Montreal Canadiens which meant we needed to be in town to take in a game, first at the original Forum and then later at the Molson Centre (I think this may be the Bell Centre now…I know it’s changed names since last I was there). We were snowed in once at Montreal; a risk of traveling in February. I found the city enchanting; it has a miniature Notre Dame and the BioDome which is as cool as it sounds. I was studying French by then and trying it out for the first time among native speakers was an adventure. I was also lucky enough to have a friend with a boat so one summer in high school we made our way up the Rideau Canal to Ottawa. I visited the National Library of Canada long before I set foot in the Library of Congress and saw the changing of the guards on the lawn of Canada’s Parliament before I saw Buckingham Palace’s decidedly less impressive version. So, in summary, I have wanted to be adopted by Canada for a long time.
Canada also, as if they needed something to make them cooler, has a national reading program called Canada Reads. In which, a group of books is selected as contenders for that year’s Read. Canadian scholars and celebrities are then selected to defend one of the books in a series of public debates in which a single book is selected as that year’s winner. I repeat, Canadians are the coolest people ever. A close friend of mine from graduate school clued me into this awesomeness and while I don’t follow it religiously, it has added a few books to me to-read list over the last couple of years. Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise is one of those books.
Audrey Flowers is either easily confused or just likes to be willfully oblivious to most of what is going on around her. As the book opens, she is in Portland with her inherited tortoise from the previous tenant of the apartment. However, a phone call sends Audrey back to Newfoundland to deal with a sudden loss and all the confusion that comes with it. Told in alternating voices of Audrey and her pet tortoise Winnifred, Come, Thou Tortoise is one of the more unique reads I have come across because let’s face it, how many books include the point of view of a tortoise? So, I did enjoy this book.
Any book which ponders toonies, loonies and Timbits must be enjoyed in my book. However, it was a slightly frustrating read. Audrey is a complicated character, a woman that you never quite figure out. She isn’t the best narrator for one thing; is she confused, is there some sort of mental disorder here or has she willfully blocked out reality so well that she really does not see what is right in front of her? As the reader, you have to pay close attention to the few facts you get because that is the only way to try to read between the lines of Audrey’s convoluted world view. I much preferred Winnifred’s chapters. She is a tortoise who knows what is up. She spends a majority of the book with Chuck and Linda, the people Audrey has taking care of Winnie while she is in Canada. Chuck is a thwarted Shakespearean (aka an out of work actor) who uses Winnie as a bookmark and keeps telling her how inviting the Willamette River looks from the window.
I also enjoyed Jessica Grant’s play with language. It’s not something that works outside of books (Jasper Fforde does this a lot in his work) but I always enjoy when I come across it as it shows the medium of the book doing something no movie or TV show can do. However, Audrey takes the language into her speech and in that case, it does get old. When she’s first told that her father is in a coma from an accident, she keeps calling it a comma. This is carried throughout the book, she is even corrected by several characters but she keeps saying comma. It is a coping mechanism of Audrey’s and something she does elsewhere as other events take place and while cool on the page, it was one of the more trying features of Audrey’s overall character after awhile.
Come, Thou Tortoise is a quirky read but fun and it has the major bonus of lots of Canada love. Downside? I’d really love some Timbits now and the closest Tim Horton’s is back home…