Monday, July 19, 2010

Jessica Grant

What a delightful book this is, Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise (Vintage Canada, 2009).

Having just finished, I looked about at what others have said:
  • "a mad cap adventure that never fails to feel real" (Globe and Mail review)
  • "one of those rare books that manage to entwine humour – in this case, even outright silliness – with poignant insight and a captivating plot" (Quill and Quire review)
  • "Author Jessica Grant, bless her big heart, lives by this rule: throw plausibility out the window. In her novel, amputees attend a school where they custom-design their own prosthetics; fruit flies get addicted to toothpaste; cabbies learn safety by driving on an ice rink; and a centenarian tortoise whose skin feels like an old elbow recounts the story of Audrey’s love for a mountain climber named Cliff" (Neil Smith in The National Post)
  • "As the story progresses, mysteries deepen, and it's a race to the end to see what is what. And what is what, as you might imagine, is not what is expected, nor perfectly clear, but it's nearly perfect. As is Audrey Flowers herself, and this altogether marvelous and clever book" (Pickle Me This review)
  • Jessica Grant wins First Novel Award (National Post)
See also:
Lynn Coady once wrote that Mordecai Richler was the only writer in Canada who was allowed to be funny. Sometimes that seemed to be true. Strangely, as we move into the 21st century levity is becoming more ... um, CanLit. (Not Canadian, surely [Shirley]; we've always been comic.)

As the comments above all suggest, the comic prevails in Come, Thou Tortoise, and at the same time, there is a lot going on here. There is a seriousness that the "first readers" sense, but have a hard time articulating. That is a show of deep respect for the writer, I would suggest. Those readers were, like me, in awe of this book.

We can talk plot, but let's first talk word play. I can't name another Canadian book that is so playful with words. The Q&Q reviewer is slightly critical of Grant's penchant for puns, suggesting that this tactic "frequent misspellings and far-fetched word choices come across as gimmicky rather than reinforcing [the narrator's] childlike character." I disagree.

The "truthfulness" of the book is perhaps diminished by the wordplay, but the magnificence of the art is increased. We might call it post-modern playfulness. This isn't a story that depends on verisimilitude. This is a book the revels in all kinds of made-up-ness. First impressions, as the first reviewers suggest, isn't enough to get all of it.

Here's my favorite quote:
  • "My dad used to say I was chalant. A lost positive. Nonchalance, he said, is indifference to mystery. Nonchalant is one of the worst things a person can be. You hang on to your chalance."
This is a book full of chalance. I've never read another like it.

What's the plot? Go read it for yourself.

1 comment:

Sandra said...

I read this story and didn't get as much from it as most people seem to have. I rarely find a child protagonist who rings true for me but this one did. Despite that, I had hoped to enjoy it more. Perhaps being ill at the time influenced me and I may try it again one day.
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