Brimming with charm and whimsy, this national bestseller 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.
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.
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It’s Nonstop…Well, Just Nonstop
If the bits of humor in this book were scattered like olives on a pizza, they would have become tiresome, but instead they are more like a thick layer of sauce full of ripe chunks of tomato—adding character to every bite. Speaking of characters, their stories just keep unrolling and intertwining. Publisher’s Weekly said the symbolism got heavy-handed in some ways but the love story in this book was adorable; make that love stories, plural. Human love stories, animal love stories, losses, unspeakable griefs, irresistible longings, all brought into sharp focus, laced with unrelenting absurdities. Light, yes, but despite the ridiculous settings and antics, I ended up caring about these people and wanting them all to find what they were seeking. Just as soon as they each figured out what that was. Meanwhile, it was great fun chasing around the Tower grounds, and the Lost Property office was a scream. This would make a great ensemble television series, in the vein of Doc Martin or Monarch of the Glen.
Fun and easy read!
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were entertaining and you immediately became involved in their daily struggles...
The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise
Stuart has created earnest characters that are as unique as they are endearing. I thought it was an enjoyable read from the very first page.