Timothy, who really existed, was an 18th century tortoise, the pet of Hampshire curate and naturalist Gilbert White. You may wonder why I have been reading a book about a tortoise. It’s because this month’s reading challenge is to read a book in which the narrator is an animal. And, as animals go, tortoises are rather nice. They do not disturb the whole neighbourhood by barking, jump up at innocent passers-by whilst their owners say “Oh, he/she’s only playing,” (as if that makes it OK) or make a mess in the street, the park or other people’s gardens. Also, there’s not a lot of historical fiction narrated by any sort of animal.
Verlyn Klinkenborg is the author’s real name, BTW. Great name. His wife’s kept her maiden name.
At first, I thought this was going to be rather boring. They don’t go anywhere, and they don’t do anything very much, so all Timothy can do is comment on what’s going on in the village where they live, which isn’t an awful lot. However, Timothy’s an attractive character. She (the author, despite being a naturalist, apparently couldn’t tell girl tortoises from boy tortoises, hence the name)’s been identified as being of a species found on the Turkish Mediterranean coast; so we hear, rather sadly, how she feels about being taken from the wild and brought to an alien environment, with a totally different climate, and kept as someone’s pet with no hope of meeting any other tortoises.
We also hear her observations about humans – in particular, how they’re enslaved by nature. They can’t go for very long without needing to eat and drink. And, even in the age of the British Agricultural Revolution – Timothy comes to Hampshire in 1740, and the book ends in 1793 – they are at the mercy of nature. Heavy rainfall, or a prolonged dry spell, or a plague of insects, and they’re in trouble. I’m trying not to read every book I pick up with Covid-era blinkers on, but it’s difficult not to, and all of that rang very true. Even more so in the light of last week’s awful floods.
It’s all rather miserable. And it’s not very exciting. Most people’s lives aren’t very exciting, but you don’t write books about them. It’s quite well-written, and you find yourself getting rather attached to Timothy, but this isn’t particularly my sort of book. But, hey, each to their own, and it does no harm to read something different once in a while.