June 30, 2013

SOFT SHELLS:

REVIEW: Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban (Brian Gittis, 6/28/13, BookForum)

"I think death will be a good career move for me," Hoban (1925-2011), told the Guardian in 2002, understanding that his novels were a little too strange for a life of mainstream literary fame. "People will say, 'yes, Hoban, he seems an interesting writer, let's look at him again.'" Reading Turtle Diary this way--in an NYRB Classics edition, with a view to Hoban's whole career--adds a new dimension of poignancy to an already very moving book. An emotionally naked, self-referential novel about a children's author in transition, Turtle Diary is deeply satisfying in its own right, while also offering a glimpse of the author behind his extravagant creative output.

The novel is narrated by two depressed, middle-aged Londoners. Neaera H. is the author of a popular series of children's books about the character Gillian Vole, but she hasn't written much of anything lately and is having a crisis of confidence over her first adult-book proposal. In the hopes of inspiring a new children's book, she's purchased a pet water beetle and looks to it for ideas (Victoria Beetle's Summer Holiday? Victoria Beetle, Secret Agent?) William G., our other narrator, used to have a family and a career in advertising (like Hoban), but now he's divorced, working in a bookstore, and living in a boarding house.

William and Neaera are strangers at the beginning of the book, and we watch as their stories move closer and closer to each other. They have many things in common--dry, observant senses of humor, unrealized ambitions, atrophying intellectual interests, anxiety, depression--but what ultimately brings them together is the London Zoo. They both wander in to look at the animals (William seeking an octopus, Neaera an oyster-catcher). And both discover the turtles.

But, sadly, aren't capable of discovering much more.




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Posted by at June 30, 2013 8:35 AM
  
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