The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
If you’re looking for a book that will make you desperately want to visit the office of lost property in the London Underground, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart fits the bill. It’s also a good read if you like something a bit quirky, a bit touching, and a bit funny all at once.
The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise tells the story of a Beefeater (nickname for Tower guards) and his wife (who works at the Lost Property Office) whose young son recently died. The tragedy of this event overshadows their lives to a break-point (which dully occurs about midway through the book). Meanwhile, Tower life goes on (with all kinds of little dramas and romances within the Keep) and the Queen decides she wants to set up a menagerie in the Tower like there was back in the day.
The book is undeniably a frothy creation, something a little darker than The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but of a similar ilk. It is amusing and touching without ever imposing too much on the reader’s emotions. You care about the characters’ travails, but certainly not overmuch and not enough to ruin your day. As an added bonus, the book provides some truly excellent historical tidbits scattered throughout as delivered by various Beefeaters to listless tourists.
The ending proves the main sticking point as it comes up rather suddenly and resolves all the major storylines with equal swiftness. The resolutions (and there are various) are dodgy in terms of their artistry and satisfaction factor; some seem perfect while others are a bit too little too late in the book.
On the whole, it’s a sweet book that, like Helen Simonson’s Major Pettrigrew’s Last Stand, delivers an affecting portrait of middle-aged love and loss in England. It just adds the Tower of London and a centenarian tortoise to the mix for a little local flavor. (Oh, did I forgot to mention the tortoise? Well then, better read up!)