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Turtle Diary

by Russell Hoban

This is one of my favourite books. Although it was written in 1975, it is as relevant now as it was then. It is a gentle and funny allegory, a fairy tale that is firmly rooted in the mundane detail of two people's lives.

Set in London's bedsit land, it is a wryly-observed tale of two lonely people, William G and Neaera H, who tell their story in alternate chapters. William G is a glum, divorced bookseller who gives us a dry commentary on the small world of eccentric characters that he inhabits and a glimpse into the ache of not being part of the life that he sees going on around him. By contrast, Neaera's voice is quite whimsical. She is an unmarried 'arty-intellectual looking' children's book author who has been writing safe little stories about Delia Swallow and Gillian Vole for 15 years.

Both William and Neaera are beginning to feel the doubts and insecurities of early middle-age and they each become obsessed by the sea turtles in London Zoo.
In the wild, turtles swim 1,500 miles to lay their eggs on Ascension Island, and this knowledge prompts both William and Neara to free them from captivity. Neither can bear to see the turtles in their 'little box of sea' and, simultaneously but separately, they hatch a plan to release the turtles into the channel. At the same time, this mad act allows them to release themselves from their own glass tanks.

I've read it over again and again and each time it makes me laugh and cry.

Your comments

"I'd say Russell Hoban's THE TURTLE DIARY stands out for thought-provoking discussion. We had very different reactions to the book and could have debated it all night!"

The Book Slugs, London book group.

Read our interview with Russell Hoban.

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