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Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile

23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679407287
ISBN-10: 0679407286
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In a gorgeous hybrid of naturalist observation, novelistic invention and philosophical meditation, Klinkenborg, a member of the New York Times editorial board and chronicler of the rural life (Making Hay), views the English countryside through the eyes of a tortoise and gives his human readers rich food for thought. For 13 years, Timothy the tortoise lived amid the bounty of 18th-century curate and amateur naturalist Gilbert White's garden. White, author of A Natural History of Selbourne, had inherited the reptile from his aunt, who had kept her (Timothy was a female, "stolen from the [Mediterranean] ruins I was basking on" and brought to "cold, manicured" England) for thrice as long. Timothy, as Klinkenborg imagines her, is melancholic, wise, resigned; her patient narration reveals extraordinary powers of observation and empathy: "the Hampshire sky staggers me now with loveliness. Creeping fogs in the pastures. Gossamer on the stubbles. The parish rings with light. Whole being of the world distilled into a moment." The only plot is the passage of time, and Timothy's scrutiny of life around her: humans are "great soft tottering beasts" who, blinded by their humanness, believe that "the language of the brute creation is no language at all." This "true story," as Klinkenborg describes it, offers studied, beautiful reflections on the present and memory, earth and weather, love and utility, human and beast. This is a wholly unexpected and astonishing book. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Although Timothy technically lives on a shelf in London's Natural History Museum, in Klinkenborg's hands she's alive and kicking in White's garden. On the editorial board of the New York Times and author of "The Rural Life" column and three books, Klinkenborg (through Timothy's voice) turns small observations about nature into powerful ideas about beauty, nature, humanity, and our role in the natural world. In wise, opinionated, and truncated language, Timothy captures the vagaries and hypocrisies of humans while stressing his own, isolated life. Timothy, "a work of both speculative naturalism and speculative biography" (Los Angeles Times), is natural history at its best: thoughtful, meditative, and even magical.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679407286
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679407287
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,236,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Debra Morse on March 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What a wry, original, disarming, imaginative, and instructive tale! Author Verlyn Klinkenborg considers the subjective journaling of 18th century English curate Gilbert White regarding a real life tortoise who lived on White's property in Selborne, and from White's biased human observations crafts a rebuttal unlike any other: a bestial philosophic treatise. Timothy is a sentient being who has much to teach us from her example (White in his paternalism erroneously concludes Timothy is male).

Through Timothy's narrative we are shown our own species' arrogance, cruelty, and bumbling tack. "How do I escape from that nimble-tongued, fleet footed race?.... Walk through the holes in their attention". Timothy's discourse on instinct versus reason is worthy of university level discussion. "Tottering, stilt-gaited beasts. A sad plight. Reason too often a will-o'-the-wisp. Instinct a relic within them."

Jane Austen in a carapace. Elegance amongst the asparagus.

As one reviewer notes, this is "one of the best meditations on slowness, patience, and endurance". It will make you re-consider humankinds place in the world. An excellent book club read, it will lead to many long discussions. One can also predict increasing crowds at the reliquary of Timothy's shell at the Natural History Museum in London.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Bart King on March 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've enthusiastically read Klinkenborg's columns for the New York Times for years, but I entered into this book with some misgivings. Even the title seemed strangely clunky, and after all, how many writers can really pull off a book told from the viewpoint of a tortoise?

My doubts were swiftly (by tortoise standards) allayed. This is certainly the most eloquent meditation on the natural world that I've ever read. (And coming from a lifetime Sierra Club member, that just might mean something.) Klinkenborg is not just an extraordinarily gifted writer. I believe he is an admirable human (and tortoise) as well.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth Smith on April 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book because I'd read a review that compared it to GILEAD, one of my favorite novels of the past 10 years. While the stories are wildly different, the comparison is a good one. Both novels are meant to be read slowly, and will evoke deep emotions about life and humanity.

Timothy the tortoise is about as unlikely a narrator as there is. Snatched from his Mediterranean birthplace, he winds up in the garden of Rev. Gilbert White, whose meticulous diaries about his 18th century parish still exist today. Timothy's reflections on the humans around him and on the cycles of life in the village are informed by his slowness, of course, and by his extraordinary longevity (tortoises often live 80 years or more, significantly longer than the humans of White's day). The novel's appreciation of the intricacies of nature, the beauty of the seasons and the value of slowness are meant to be savored, and his reflections on humans and their follies come as sly and often moving little revelations scattered throughout the novel.

There's something to appreciate on every page of this short and lyrically written novel. I enjoyed it while sitting in my garden, like Timothy. It's one of the most memorable and unusual novels I've ever read. You won't be disappointed by taking a chance on this one.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By cd on November 17, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Timothy is a tortoise. She understands and speaks English---albeit in incomplete sentences. She knows some geography. She knows the thoughts, the worries and beliefs of the inhabitants of 18th century Selborne, England. She knows what goes on in their churches and their homes, even though she has presumably never entered any. She knows what takes place in winters, even though she has hibernated through every one.

Never mind!

Suspend your disbelief. Accept that Timothy is omniscient. Enjoy her descriptions and commentary. It reads like poetry, with lots of witty bits and little jabs at the absurdity of humans. It had me laughing out loud at times.

On Easter: " 'The lamb who was slain now liveth again,' he [Mr. Gilbert White] believes. And so he says aloud to his parishioners. Though on this earth, the lamb who is slain is supper."

This book is a rare treat, so read it slowly. There's a glossary in the back to help with the names of local areas, the obsolete and botanical terms.

BTW, The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White, which inspired this book, is available to download at Project Gutenberg [...]. A search for "tortoise" points to several letters that mention an unnamed, old Sussex tortoise.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Soshan on April 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I chose this book for a book group I am in and out of 8 of us, only two really liked it. Nobody actually hated it, but here is what the problems were:

- The writing structure: The book is written from the perspective of the Tortoise and in attempting to offer a unique voice, the author chooses to use a device of fragmented sentences. It's very cumbersome to follow, especially at first. More than one person noted that about 2/3 of the way through, it suddenly got a lot easier and more flowing but we cannot pinpoint why.

- The writing style: The book fades in and out of an omniscient point of view from the Tortoise. Timothy remarks about things that he/she could never know. Timothy seems to know what Gilbert White says in his sermons, yet has never attended a service. Timothy seems to know that the blood rushes to one's head when one hangs upside-down from a tree. For some, Timothy simply knows too much, and it pulls the reader out of the story. Personally, I looked past this and let the story flow. I noticed it, and forgave it.

- The complete and utter irony of the premise: The book is basically a human, writing what he believes a Tortoise thinks, about humanity. There are several points where the book tries to point out how much we really DON'T know about nature or the way a creature thinks or the way this Tortoise thinks, and whenever the point is well-made from the animal's perspective, the reader is left thinking "wow, that's a little bold, considering that a HUMAN wrote this book." Granted, I think the author gives a nod to this irony by stating "Humans are blinded - even the naturalist - by being human. Barely able to witness what is not human." So, if you can look beyond this as a reader, the book will be more enjoyable.
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