Friday, 3 February 2017
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
I really disliked this book. Like, a lot. I tried to get into it, I tried to find it charming and delightful, as so many of the blurbsters seem to have. In the end, it drove me crazy almost end to end. For every moment where I gave a slight smile, there were many more where I was nearly incoherent with irritation.
First of all, for all that she's in the title, the tortoise is kind of superfluous. Sure, Audrey's worried about her tortoise for a while, but then she gets worried about the mouse, and if it weren't for the occasional turtle-POV chapters, she'd utterly drop out of the narrative. Worse, the turtle's narrative voice and Audrey's narrative voice are pretty much precisely the same. The same! A turtle! If you can't make a turtle sound different from a person, then at very least don't change narrative voice. At the very fucking least.
Also, does the tortoise add a lot to the story? Other than letting us know that no matter how much we're supposed to believe Audrey is deeply attached to things, out of sight is out of mind? Or that she can only single-mindedly worry about one thing at a time? I mean, for the latter half of the book, it's like she doesn't even remember she has a tortoise, when the back cover makes it sound like this is some tortoise-separation-and-reunion romp.
But that's all fairly minor. Where I got really aggravated was the sheer inconsistency of the main character. It felt like the author didn't have a good handle on her most of the time, and we veer back and forth between not knowing simple words and yet knowing the word "mullioned." Between being entirely resistant to change and acting out when change comes along, to jetting off to Europe with no particular plans, hiking, falling in the love, moving to the U.S. and getting along just fine. From being able to handle the Tube in London to being stymied by the idea of fog.
It is repeatedly said that Audrey has a low IQ. We don't know what that means, but whatever it means, it's entirely inconsistent, and worse, mostly gets used as mental handicap prop comedy. Look, this book doesn't need to be dire and depressing, but it does need to use that idea for more than ha-has that she gets words wrong and ideas in her head that she pursues with no regard for the outcome.
Not to mention how aggravated I was by the plotline with her father's lover. Look, the moment we got into the dynamics of the family between Audrey, her father, and her uncle Thoby, my brain went, "well, obviously the father and Uncle Thoby are lovers, so this is really pretty much her two fathers." But then the book was so insistent and so insistent and so insistent that he was really her father's brother that I wasn't sure. Of course, then when it gets revealed it was her father's lover who had lived with them and helped raise her over a period of time over a decade, I was just...annoyed.
Mostly because, why was it a secret in the first place? Who were they hiding it from? Audrey takes it in stride with nary a blink. Even if she had reacted more strongly, telling her who the man who was living with her and her father really was instead of trying to pass him off as an uncle just doesn't make any sense. Why would her father feel like he had to hide that at home? He doesn't seem to have a lot of close friends where they live in Newfoundland, and certainly no one we feel would react badly if they found out. Audrey doesn't care. His family overseas seem a little weirded out, but it seems as much by the whole "passing the guy off as Uncle Thoby" when Uncle Thoby is an actual person who exists, than by the fact that their son and brother is gay.
Honestly, even if Audrey has a low IQ, explaining to her that the charming letter she wrote to an airplane about it not crashing was answered by a man in England who her father struck up a correspondence with and then fell in love with, and then that man came to live with them and was a warm, nurturing second father...this doesn't seem to be something you couldn't do! Particularly since they try not to let Audrey by limited by her IQ, which seems not so much to be low as selectively low, when the author thinks it would be amusing.
It just makes NO FUCKING SENSE. And then, worse, when Audrey's father dies, "Uncle Thoby" goes back to England without even saying goodbye. Just think about that for a moment. I know he's grief stricken. I am sympathetic. But to leave behind your more-or-less adopted daughter WITHOUT SAYING GOODBYE after her father dies suddenly would be cruel even if the daughter was smart as a whip! It's an awful, horrible thing to do to anyone at any time, and even if you're struggling with your drinking, you fucking say goodbye! Or something! That the narrative doesn't seem to realize that this is one of the most cruel things I've ever read, leaving a grieving daughter all alone with no supports...JESUS FUCKING CHRIST. This is not charming. It is not delightful.
In summation, this book bugged the fuck out of me. I was never charmed, or delighted. I saw the twist coming from the first time I met the guy, but fuck, I'm not about to forgive him. Everyone seems to act arbitrarily to create false tension, and what Audrey is and isn't capable of changes from second to second.
And the tortoise is fairly pointless, even if her chapters are probably less irritating than the book as a whole.