Audrey Flowers, affectionately known as Oddly, leaves her current home in Oregon for her hometown of St John's, Newfoundland after her father is struck down by a Christmas tree. Flying across the continent, Audrey imagines what she can say to bring him out of his comma (coma) but upon arrival her Uncle Thoby tells her it's too late. After the funeral, Thoby leaves abruptly, leaving distraught Audrey wondering why he left and what has happened to seemingly ageless Wedge, her father's lab mouse/pet.
Audrey recalls fond memories of her father, the sudden arrival of Uncle Thoby in their lives, and her animosity toward her grandmother and Toff, the man from Cambridge. Somewhere in her muddled mind is the answer she is seeking, if she could just ferret it out.
In the meantime, Winnifred, Audrey's pet tortoise, is back in Oregon. She sits in her paper castle watching Audrey's friend Linda and Chuck the pugilist/Shakespearean actor and wonders if Audrey will ever return for her.
Come Thou, Tortoise is an interesting novel. First of all, Audrey is...um...I'm not quite sure how to explain Audrey. She has a low IQ but in some ways she is incredibly smart. She has a unique way of looking at the world that seems to make perfect sense (like disarming the Air Marshall on the plane) but at the same time frustrates the people around her. She's also easily distracted by wordplay. This can be entertaining reading or drive you mad. Some of her word games you'll get right away, some after a couple of minutes and some maybe never. For example, if you aren't familiar with Newfoundland how would you know that Seagull Hill is actually Signal Hill?
Except for Winnifred's chapters (whose voice is awfully similar to Audrey's), the whole novel is told from Audrey's point of view in first person. Audrey has a peculiar tunnel vision and reading it I found myself dragged into her thought process and not my own. Tricky, tricky, Jessica Grant. One thing that annoyed me was the lack of quotation or question marks. Who said that? Did she think that or say that? Punctuation, it's your friend. Of course, this serves to confuse the reader and I think that's the point.
What I loved about the Come Thou, Tortoise though is the characters. I loved everybody (well, maybe not the grandmother). Audrey is what we would call 'a sweeeetheart' (said with a Maritme inflection); she's kind to nearly everyone and even when she's trying to be mean, she's harmless. I loved her relationship with her dad and uncle. They are so protective of her yet at the same time know when to let her go. In fact, Audrey is surrounded by the most benevolent people. Her neighbours are kind hearted: Jim of the cresent driveway, Byrne Doyle the politican. They are colourful without being too quirky or weird.
The story hooked me. I felt as frustrated and abandoned as Audrey was when her uncle left. I wanted to know why too. Poor Audrey, she was having the worst week of her life and I was so sorry for her. It was at times heartbreaking, heartwarming and funny. I felt there were a few flaws that I can't talk about here without giving away all the secrets but overall I really enjoyed this book.
Thanks to Random House for the review copy. Available March 10, 2009.