The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel

By Julia Stuart
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Doubleday, (8/10/2010)
Language:English



Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (4 Clubie's ratings)


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Brimming with charm and whimsy, this exquisite novel set in the Tower of London has the transportive qualities and delightful magic of the contemporary classics Chocolat and Amélie.

Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s right, he is a Beefeater (they really do live there). It’s no easy job living and working in the tourist attraction in present-day London.

Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens a series of principled erot­ica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens.

When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interest­ing. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away.

Filled with the humor and heart that calls to mind the delight­ful novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and the charm and beauty of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a magical, wholly origi­nal novel whose irresistible characters will stay with you long after you turn the stunning last page.
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Steph's thoughts on "The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel"
updated on:10/11/2010

Beyond the historic walls of the Tower of London lies a captivating world as revealed by Julia Stuart in The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise.  Sometimes amusing, often whimsical, and with an underlying sadness, the imaginative tales that are told of the Tower's residents find their way into your heart and mind.  Much of the story is built on introspection, befitting of the enclosed walls of the Tower.  The focal characters are especially adept at maintaining their internal dialogue - ultimately at the expenses of their marriage.  Other characters are equally as captivating and tight-lipped, which for me made me feel like a confidant of sorts.  Very early on in the book, I realized the narrator in my head was the voice of the narrator from the TV show Pushing Daisies, which is indeed a compliment of comparison.  Utterly delightful.   

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Ceci's thoughts on "The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel"
updated on:10/2/2010

The book jacket proclaims that this book is “brimming with charm, whimsy and wonder,” and I was unsure that I would be able to handle such unrelenting cuteness. My fears were put to rest shortly along in the story, however, as soon as the Tower’s ravens bit off Mrs. Cook’s tail following an hours long, slow motion military advancement on the poor tortoise. Charm, whimsy and wonder are present and accounted for, but all are fortunately balanced by a pleasantly dark humor. Take, the Tower chaplain. He devises ingenious deathtraps to eradicate the rats that have so solidly infested his chapel they actually nibble on his robes while he kneels in prayer. He also has an award-winning side career in erotic fiction. But, he’s actually very sensitive and just looking for love. Most of the characters are written in this same manner – funny, but sympathetic portraits of individuals dealing with life’s major and minor disruptions. Stuart also manages to generate a nice blend of melancholy and merriment as the characters work to connect, or not, with others. Can’t we all relate to Hebe Jones’ “horizontal position of defeat” as she grapples with the chasm that has risen between her and her husband, but don’t we all wish we could also occupy that position in a magician’s box like she does? For clever writing like that, as well as the outstanding decision to include the zorilla, sugar glider (small flying possums that get depressed if you don’t give them enough attention), and glutton in the Queen’s menagerie, I recommend this book. By the way, do not worry about Mrs. Cook. If you recall your fables, you know the tortoise will prevail. 



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Nick's thoughts on "The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel"
updated on:9/30/2010

Few would think to set a love story in the Tower of London. Fewer still would think to make the main players in that story a Beefeater and a woman who works in a lost and found agency of the London Underground as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their beloved son. What makes this novel work so well is that the characters that inhabit the odd world the author creates, while quirky and offbeat, are at heart very real. You really feel with Balthazar and Hebe and root for them, even as they drift further and further apart. The writing style is deceptively simple but very clever, efficient and filled with feeling. While the story is melancholy, there are many funny moments woven in. And when you reach the end, I defy you to not be moved. It left me beaming and a little choked up, which I think is a good summary of the emotional nature of this book as a whole. 

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Book Junky's thoughts on "The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel"
updated on:9/29/2010

I think if I had to sum up this book I would have to call in, "Charming" - it was absolutely lovely. The writing style was a lot of fun. It felt to me like a children's book author writing for adults, but in a good way. Aside from that there did not seem much to discuss. It does take a difficult issue (death of a child) and approach it in easy to digest manner, but... It was just cute, charming, fun, delightful, but I really did not feel like I got much out of it. Read it for it's unique voice at a time when you just don't want to think too much. 




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"The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel"
By Julia Stuart

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.00 out of 5 (4 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

Undercurrents of Heartache

1.  While filled with humour, The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise has an undercurrent of heartache. Why do you think the author included the tragic element—could the story have survived without it?
 

Historically Accurate?
2. The novel is strewn with historical anecdotes. Which do you think are true, and which do you think the author made up, if any?
 

British Humour
3. Much is made of British humour. Do you think that there is any difference between British and American humour? If so, how is it demonstrated in the book?

Crying Tear Drops 
4. Explain the correlation between Balthazar’s inability to cry about Milo’s death and his obsession with collecting rain drops.
 

Living in a Castle
5. Hebe Jones sarcastically states that “It’s every woman’s dream to live in a castle.” (p. 22) How is this statement not true for Hebe. What do you think is Hebe’s dream?
 

Attraction
6. What is the main attraction between Arthur Catnip and Valerie Jennings? How are they a well-suited match?
 

Opening the Safe
7. How is the lost safe significant to Hebe and Valerie?  Is their any significance to the timing of when the lock is opened?

Contradictory Reverend 
8. Reverend Septimus Drew seems to be a walking contradiction. Outside of his hidden hobby, what else is surprising/contradictory about his character?
 

In Search of...
9. All of the characters seem to be in search of something—whether lost love, items, loved ones, or animals. Who do you think is the most fulfilled character in the book, if there is any? Why?
 

Ghosts
10. Sir Walter Raleigh and many other spirits claim to haunt the Tower. What element do these ghosts add to the book? Is it more spiritual or superstitious?  
 

The Urn
11. What is the significance of the urn that Hebe finds in London Underground’s Lost Property Office? Why is she so resolved to find its owner?
 

Infidelity
12. Explain how infidelity affects various characters in the book.
 

The Menagerie and Milo
13. How does working in the menagerie make Balthazar feel closer to Milo?
 

Mrs. Cook
14. What role does Mrs. Cook play in the novel? She is in part responsible for Balthazar’s job at the menagerie—how else has she played an integral role in Hebe and Balthazar’s lives?
 

Storytelling
15. What role does storytelling and letter writing play in the book? Balthazar won both Hebe and Milo’s hearts with his grand storytelling. Who else from the Tower is a raconteur?  

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A Beefeater, his wife, and their nearly 180-year-old tortoise live in the Tower of London, and if Stuart's deadly charming sophomore novel (after The Matchmaker of Perigord) is any indication, the fortress is as full of intrigue as ever. Balthazar and Hebe Jones lost their son, Milo, to illness three years ago, and while Beefeater Balthazar grieves silently and obsessively collects rainwater in perfume bottles, Hebe wants to talk about their loss openly. Hebe works in the thematically convenient London Underground Lost Property Office, and the abandoned items that reside there (an ash-filled urn, a gigolo's diary, Dustin Hoffman's Oscar) are almost as peculiar as the unruly animals (lovebirds not in love, a smelly zorilla, monkeys with a peculiar nervous tic) in the Tower's new menagerie, given to the queen and overseen by Balthazar. Passion, desperation, and romantic shenanigans abound among the other Tower-dwellers: the Reverend, an erotic fiction writer, has eyes for a bartender, and the Ravenmaster is cheating on his wife with the cook. Though the cuteness sometimes comes across a little thick, the love story is adorable. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Advance Praise for THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE:

“Charming, witty, and heartfelt, Stuart's second novel is even more delightful than her debut, The Matchmaker of PérigordA perfect suggestion for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; highly recommended.” 
--Library Journal
 
“A Beefeater, his wife, and their nearly 180-year-old tortoise live in the Tower of London, and if Stuart’s deadly charming sophomore novel (after The Matchmaker of Périgord) is any indication, the fortress is as full of intrigue as ever…the love story is adorable.”
--Publisher’s Weekly
 
“[The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise] is grounded by the moving central love story. This sweet romp will appeal to history buffs.”
-- Kirkus Reviews
 
"[A] magical novel…warm and funny." – Woman (UK)
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER ONE 

Standing on the battlements in his pajamas, Balthazar Jones looked out across the Thames where Henry III’s polar bear had once fished for salmon while tied to a rope. The Beefeater failed to notice the cold that pierced his dressing gown with deadly precision, or the wretched damp that crept round his ankles. Placing his frozen hands on the ancient parapet, he tilted back his head and inhaled the night. There it was again.

The undeniable aroma had fluttered past his capacious nostrils several hours earlier as he lay sleeping in the Tower of London, his home for the last eight years. Assuming such wonderment was an oasis in his usual gruesome dreams, he scratched at the hairs that covered his chest like freshly fallen ash and descended back into ragged slumber. It wasn’t until he rolled onto his side, away from his wife and her souk of competing odours, that he smelt it again. Recognising instantly the exquisite scent of the world’s rarest rainfall, the Beefeater sat bolt upright in the darkness, his eyes open wide like those of a baby bird.

The sudden movement of the mattress caused his wife to undulate for several seconds like a body drifting at sea, and she muttered something incomprehensible. As she turned away from the disturbance, her pillow fell into the gap between the head of the bed and the wall, one of the many irritations of living within circular walls. Balthazar Jones reached down into the dusty no-man’s-land and groped around. After carefully retrieving the pillow, he placed it gently next to his wife so as not to disturb her. As he did so, he wondered, as he often had throughout their marriage, how a woman of such beauty, the embers of which still glowed fiercely in her fifty-fifth year, could look just like her father as she slept. For once, he didn’t feel the urge to poke her awake in order to rid himself of the harrowing illusion of sharing his bed with his Greek father- in-law, a man whose ferocious looks had led his relatives to refer to him as a good cheese in a dog’s skin. Instead, he quickly got out of bed, his heart tight with anticipation. Forgetting his usual gazelle’s step at such times, he crossed the room, his bare heels thudding on the emaciated carpet. He peered out, nose and white beard against the pane, which bore the smudges of numerous previous occasions. The ground was still dry. With mounting desperation, he scanned the night sky for the approaching rain clouds responsible for the undeniable aroma. In his panic not to miss the moment for which he had been waiting for more than two years, he hurried past the vast stone fireplace to the other side of the bedroom. His stomach, still bilious from the previous evening’s hogget, arrived first.

Grabbing his dressing gown, its pockets bearing the guilty crumbs of clandestine biscuits, the Beefeater pulled it across his pajamas and, forgetting his tartan slippers, opened the bedroom door. He failed to notice the noise the latch made and the subsequent incomprehensible babble it produced from his wife, a slither of hair skimming her cheek. Fingers sliding down the filthy rope handrail, he descended the corpse- cold spiral stairs clutching in his free hand an Egyptian perfume bottle in which he hoped to capture some of the downfall. Once at the bottom of the steps, he passed his son’s bedroom, which he had never brought himself to enter since that terrible, terrible day. Slowly, he shut behind him the door of the Salt Tower, the couple’s quarters within the fortress, and congratulated himself on a successful exit. It was at that precise moment that his wife woke up. Hebe Jones ran a hand along the bed sheet that had been a wedding present all those years ago. But it failed to find her husband.

s balthazar jones had been collecting rain for almost three years, a compulsion that had started shortly after the death of his only child. At first he thought that rain was simply an infuriating part of the job, which, along with the damp from their abominable lodgings, produced in all the Beefeaters a ruthless specimen of fungus that flourished on the backs of their knees. But as the months grated by following the tragedy, he found himself staring at the clouds, frozen in a state of insurmountable grief when he should have been on the lookout for professional pickpockets. As he looked up at the sky, barely able to breathe for the weight of guilt that pressed against his chest, he started to notice a variety in the showers that would invariably soak him during the day. Before long he had identified sixty-four types of rain, all of which he jotted down in a Moleskine notebook he bought specially for the purpose. It wasn’t long before he purchased a bulk order of coloured Egyptian perfume bottles, chosen not so much for their beauty but for their ability to conserve their contents. In them he started to collect samples, recording the time, date, and precise variety of rain that had fallen. Much to the annoyance of his wife, he had a cabinet made for them, which he mounted with considerable difficulty on the living room’s curved wall. Before long it was full and he ordered two more, which she made him put in the room at the top of the Salt Tower, which she never entered because the chalk graffiti left on the walls by the German U-boat men imprisoned during the Second World War gave her the creeps.

When his collection had swollen to the satisfying figure of one hundred, the Beefeater promised his wife, who now detested wet weather even more than was natural for a Greek who couldn’t swim, he would stop. And for a while it seemed that Balthazar Jones was cured of his habit. But the truth was that England was going through an extraordinary dry patch, and as soon as the rain started to fall again, the Beefeater, who had already been reprimanded by the Chief Yeoman Warder for gazing up at the sky while he should have been answering the tourists’ tiresome questions, returned to his compulsion.

Hebe Jones satisfied herself with the thought that eventually her husband would complete his collection and be done with it. But her hopes evaporated when he was sitting on the edge of the bed one night and, after pulling off his damp left sock, revealed with the demented conviction of a man about to prove the existence of dragons that he had only touched the tip of the iceberg. It was then that he had some official writing paper printed with matching envelopes, and set up the St. Heribert of Cologne Club, named after the patron saint of rain, hoping to compare notes with fellow wet weather enthusiasts. He placed adverts in various newspapers around the world, but the only correspondence he ever received was a heavily watermarked letter from an anonymous resident of Mawsynram, in northeastern India, which suffered from one of the world’s heaviest rainfalls. “Mr Balthazar, You must desist from this utter madness at the most soonest. The only thing worse than a lunatic is a wet one” was all that it said.

But the lack of interest only fuelled his obsession. The Beefeater spent all his spare time writing to meteorologists around the world about his discoveries. He received replies from them all, his fingers, as lithe as a watchmaker’s, quiver- ing as he opened them. However, the experts’ politeness was matched by their disinterest. He changed tack and buried himself in dusty parchments and books at the British Library that were as fragile as his sanity. And with eyes magnified by the strength of his reading glasses, he scoured everything ever written about rain.

Eventually, Balthazar Jones discovered a variant that, from what he could make out, hadn’t fallen since 1892 in Colombo, making it the world’s rarest. He read and reread the descriptions of the sudden shower, which, through a catalogue of misfortunes, had resulted in the untimely death of a cow. He became adamant that he would recognise it from its scent even before seeing it. Every day he waited, hoping for it to fall. Obsession eventually loosened his tongue, and one afternoon he heard himself telling his wife of his desperate desire to include it in his collection. With a mixture of incredulity and pity, she gazed up at the man who had never shed a tear over the death of their son, Milo. And when she looked back down at the daffodil bulbs she was planting in a tub on the Salt Tower roof, she wondered yet again what had happened to her husband.

s standing with his back against the Salt Tower’s oak door, the Beefeater glanced around in the darkness to make sure that he wouldn’t be spotted by any of the other inhabitants of the fortress. The only movement came from a pair of flesh-coloured tights swinging on a washing line strung up on the roof of the Casemates. These ancient terraced cottages built against the fortress walls housed many of the thirty-five Beefeaters who lived with their families at the Tower. The rest, like Balthazar Jones, had had the misfortune of being allocated one of the monument’s twenty-one towers as their home or, worse still, a house on Tower Green, the site of seven beheadings, five of them women.

Balthazar Jones listened carefully. The only sound emerging through the darkness was a sentry marking his territory, his footfall as precise as a Swiss clock. He sniffed the night again and for a moment he doubted himself. He hesitated, cursing himself for being so foolish as to believe that the moment had finally come. He imagined his wife emitting an aviary of sounds as she dreamt, and decided to return to the warm familiarity of the bed. But just as he was about to retrace his steps, he smelt it again.

Heading for the battlements, he noticed to his relief that the lights were off at the Rack & Ruin, the Tower’s tavern that had been serving the tiny community for two hundred and twenty-seven uninterrupted years, despite a direct hit during the Second World War. He did well to check, for there were occasions when the more vociferous arguments between the Beefeaters took until t...
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JULIA STUART is the author of one previous novel, The Matchmaker of Périgord. A native of England, she now resides in Bahrain.


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