Sunday, May 21, 2006

Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg is a slow read, as you might expect for a book written by a tortoise. Though the text of the story takes only 158 pages, it took me five or six days to read, as I found I could only read five to ten pages at a sitting. I admit some of these reading sessions were late at night, and I became sleepy, but I think there are additional reasons Timothy took me so long to complete.

As an action movie fan would say, "Nothing happens!" This is not completely true, as something does happen in the beginning pages and again in the closing pages. In between these events, Timothy describes his world in 18th Century English villages and the people who come into the garden of Mr. Gilbert White, minister and amateur naturalist. In a tone much like the naturalist who often talks to him, the tortoise enumerates his world, listing every type of tree of the woods, crop of the fields, vegetable of the garden, domestic animal, bird of the air, and occupation of the villagers. The result is much like Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass; Timothy could serve as an “everyday life in” book.

The tortoise changes topics rather frequently or he at least seems to change topics. Only as a chapter ends does the reader sometimes discern what the tortoise is discussing.

Timothy is filled with the vocabulary of rural 18th Century England. I wish I had noticed earlier in my reading that there is a seventeen page glossary in the back of the book.

Despite the challenge to modern readers, Timothy is worth slogging through, as the tortoise makes some keen observations about the human condition. Humans are top-heavy, unattractive, awkward, and never satisfied with nature as it is. They also know so little about tortoises.

There is a lot to be seen from the ground.

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. ISBN 0679407286

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My brother liked it a lot - he is a turtle person, raises them from eggs and releases the hatchlings back where they belong - and his wife found it full of pathos, enough to cause a few tears. I will be trying it soon.