I recently finished Julia Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise for my book club. It was nice to have a whimsical read for once, although this book isn’t as light-hearted as the cover might lead you to believe. There’s a heavy element of loneliness and loss running through the entire book made all the more sharp when it appears by the sheer silliness that occurs at regular intervals. I have to say, Julia Stuart’s brand of comedy really worked for me. She conjures up some hilarious images–like Valerie Jennings stuck in a horse costume–that wouldn’t be out of place in classic slapstick British comedy. This is a rare book that had me laughing out loud, and even rarer one that almost brought a tear to my eye. It was probably just dust, I swear.
Doing research for book club, I learned that the book was originally called Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo. Not a good title, but the cover was nice. While his relationship is the focus of the novel, and gets the most page space, there are at least a dozen other characters with their own storylines. Although I must admit that I was totally in love with Balthazar and his beautiful eyes.
I liked the Reverend Septimus Drew the most. He writes erotic fiction. Not only that, but he’s been shortlisted for a Best Erotica award. I should have been paying more attention to The Vicar of Dibley, because I wasn’t sure what type of priest was allowed to date and eventually get married like Septimus Drew has hopes of doing.
He has his eyes on Ruby Dore, the barmaid, whom I liked, even if she is a bit hypocritical. When she discovers the Reverend’s writing, she gets angry with him, saying a man of God shouldn’t write things like that, etc. etc. Meanwhile, she’s pregnant with a one-night-stand’s baby. I thought it was a little odd that she would get mad at the one nice man in her life for simply doing what he likes to do. A little erotica never hurt anyone.
Anyway, I’ll write more about the book after book club. I want to say that I also enjoyed all the historical references, which must be true because they’re too crazy to ever be made up. The fact that history is so ridiculous (one Tower prisoner was executed with a mercury enema) makes the quirky fictional characters in the book all the more real. Also, it’s filled with some of the cutest animals ever. The Etruscan Shrew is my new favorite mammal.