Friday, May 13, 2011

So Much Potential...

There's a book I read sometime last year, can't remember exactly when, but it must have been before April since it's not in the blog :) Anyway, the book in question was Julia Stuart's The Matchmaker of Perigord, about a little provincial French town.  It was my kind of French town - kind of light and funny, irreverant - a fictional version of Peter Mayle's Provence books.  The book, since it was essentially a book about the town, was like that too, of course.  So anyway, comic travel book, about France no less.  Sounds good, so I read it.  And it was fine, pretty much what I expected, not at all a waste of time.  So when I saw Julia Stuart's new book, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, on the shelves of the Mid-Manhattan library (yes, we're talking about that time back how many months ago when I went and browsed the shelves - up top for 10 times renewal :)) I didn't hesitate to take it out.  The first thing I noticed when I bothered to look at the jacket was that this book is not about France at all, but about the far more whimsical, and just as foreign in its own way, Tower of London.  Specifically, about the life of a Beefeater in the Tower of London.

Actually, I think this setting has a whole lot more promise than the French countryside.  My love for all things English remains intact and the Beefeater compound has a great mix of historic potential and absurd situational comedy (do I sound like I know what I'm talking about because I totally made that up).  It's definitely less educational, because less real, but oh so fun.  As for being real, I really should have read this with my computer (of course it got read on shabbos and the train so that didn't happen) because I just kept wondering what was real and what was totally fabricated.  Most of it was, I'm pretty sure - but even if only little bits were real, how cool to live in the Tower of London.  And not only that, but even more fun in a way, the Beefeater's wife work in the London Underground Lost Property Office.  Now I am *very sure* that her occupation is entirely made up, the lost property office is nothing but a repository of random junk, but whose dream isn't someone turning up all those years later with the long-lost old friend?  It's like a mystery with no tension :)  So all in all, there's a lot to be said in favor.

What's the catch? I'm not the only one who's tickled pink by this whole scenario.  And, not content to stop while she's ahead, the author can't go like two paragraphs without inserting a twee or profound yet sprightly tale of whimsy.  And mostly of them are completely gratuitous.  Totally unlikely stories about people we don't care about that are ridiculous rather than meaningful.  After a while, they really started annoying me.  Not only was the story not moving, but I felt like I was reacting exactly opposite the moving way I was supposed to.  About three-quarters of the way on, it starts moving a bit but unfortunately not to anywhere much.  The thread throughout the book is that they are torn about by the death of their son, which apparently the Beefeater thinks he caused.  At the end we find out why - and it wasn't even a decent reason! It's because - get this - he *yelled* at him the night before! I mean really? Why try for profound meaning when you have to use *the death of child* and *still* can't write something good and heartwringing?! So basically, even the cute part of the story was overdone to the point where I just wished it would all go away, and then, the story just disappointed in the end.  Oh well...

Verdict: 2.5/5

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