Turtle Diary

turtlenyTurtle Diary
by Russell Hoban  (American ex-pat)
1975 / 185 pages
Rating  9.2  /20th cent. fiction

Odd rating,  I know,  but I wanted it to make the 9+ category.  It’s that good,  but still,  not more than that.  It’s a special kind of book,  imo.

An older man and an older woman tell,  in alternating chapters,   first person accounts of their daily lives over a relatively short span of time,    their interactions with animals at the London Zoo and more.   They are strangers,  but by coincidence they meet more than once.

William G.  is middle-aged,  divorced,  a bookstore clerk and lives in a rooming house.  He’s a heavy smoker,  sometimes wears a beard and makes literary connections frequently.  He loves sea turtles and hates to see them caged.

Neaera H.  is middle-aged and single, the  successful author of children’s books.  Of herself she says she’s “intellectual and artistic looking.”  She makes frequent literary connections.   She loves sea turtles and hates to see them caged.

There are differences, though.  William lives in a boarding house and works in a used bookshop so he has plenty of personal encounters and much of his narrative is made up of these scenarios.   Neaera lives in an apartment and works as a writer so she has very few personal interactions and her narrative is primarily comprised of thinking and details about the life of her pet water-beetle.  Her narrative is more like a journal while his tends to be a 1st person report on events although he does think quite a lot.  The voices sound the same though,  in terms of vocabulary and  rhythm –  I suspect that’s deliberate. And the effect is that the reader has to really pay attention to whose narrative it is because it’s often difficult to tell without the chapter headings.

The book is about how these two very like-minded people meet – they may, as William says, be too like-minded.  Somehow William and Neaera develop a plot to free the turtles and so the book goes on this adventure with the two protagonists.

The major characters are very, very well drawn and I really “like” them all.  The plot seems to drive the book although …  The themes are basically coincidence and freedom,  maybe instinct and fate – being set free.   It actually seems to be a fate-driven book (if there is such a thing).     And although the book is not at all fluffy or saccharine at all,  there are occasions of sweet humor which I really enjoyed.

“The sign said: ‘The Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, is the source of turtle soup . .  .’ I am the source of William G. soup if it comes to that. Everyone is the source of his or her kind of soup. In a town as big as London that’s a lot of soup walking about.”  (p.  6  Kindle)

I really didn’t want the book to end.

2 Responses to Turtle Diary

  1. Alex says:

    There was a film made of this some years ago which I remember being really good. It might be worth your while looking it out.


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