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De watervanger; The tower, the zoo, and the…
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De watervanger; The tower, the zoo, and the tortoise (edition 2010)

by Julia Stuart

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
82611210,967 (3.74)93
Member:EMS_24
Title:De watervanger; The tower, the zoo, and the tortoise
Authors:Julia Stuart
Info:New York : Doubleday, 2010.
Collections:boek, Your library
Rating:*1/2
Tags:niet uitgelezen

Work details

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart

  1. 80
    The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (bpompon)
  2. 71
    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (teelgee)
    teelgee: Whimsy, lightheartedness and quirkiness combined nicely with seriousness and poignancy.
  3. 40
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (teelgee)
  4. 10
    A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson (janetteG)
    janetteG: Touching and quirky - but not too quirky - story about older people finding love and bird watching in East Africa.
  5. 00
    The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both uniquely British reflections on a unique life lived.
  6. 00
    The Matchmaker of Périgord by Julia Stuart (LBV123)
  7. 00
    Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant (LBV123)
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» See also 93 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater at the Tower of London, where he lives with his wife Hebe and the tortoise that has been in the family for over a century. Ever since the death of his son, he and his wife have not been able to talk of Milo and Balthazar has the odd habit of collecting rainwater, much to Hebe's chagrin. But their lives carry on until the fateful day when the equerry gives Balthazar a new assignment: the queen's animals are going to be relocated from the London Zoo to the Tower, and Balthazar will now be in charge of their care.

This is a quiet sort of humorous story about quirky characters that kind of creeps up on you with how much their lives end up mattering to you as a reader. Several different characters - Hebe and her co-worker at the Lost Property Office, the chaplain Septimus, and Ruby Dore the landlady at the Beefeater's pub - have their own side stories that intersect with Balthazar's as he navigates the challenges of animal husbandry and grief for his loss. ( )
  bell7 | May 20, 2017 |
I chose this book because in reading a few reviews it was compared to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but I didn't get the same feel or the same charm from it. I enjoyed reading about the lives of the Beefeaters and the stories of the queen's menagerie, which was new to me, but I felt like those parts were long and drawn out. There were also fun and poignant moments with couples and potential couples through out the story. But my favorite parts were about Hebe Jones and her hunt to find the owners of items turned in to the London Underground Lost Property Office. These adventures could become a funny series within themselves. I actually started wondering if the US has its own job of this variety and where do I apply. 🙂 ( )
  whybehave2002 | Mar 1, 2017 |
As a reminder to me: After a couple years, husband and wife finally face the grief of the death of their very young sons; and they begin anew their life together at the London Tower. Also an insight on the life of the resident guards, "beefeaters", at London Tower. ( )
  jack2410 | Feb 2, 2017 |
I've now read this twice and it is still charming. Hooray for the quirky people! ( )
  SusanKrzywicki | Jan 29, 2017 |
Take an unlikely setting, say, the Tower of London. Add in some unusual characters, like the Beefeaters who both live and work there. Now mix in a man who collects different types of rain, the Lost and Found department of the London Underground, a second Royal Menagerie on the Tower grounds, a marriage falling apart, an unexpected pregnancy, the oldest tortoise in the world, and a bearded pig who may or may not be on the loose and you've just scratched the surface of the delights in this book. Funny, sad, and chock full of historical tidbits about the Tower (some real, some made up), this delightful book is well worth a read. ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
The ancient and sinister Tower of London that lures more than 2 million visitors a year would be an inspiration for any writer, especially one with the kind of whimsical imagination from which sprouts a world of ravenous ravens and a 181-year old tortoise called Mrs. Cross whose tail has been replaced by a parsnip.

Not to mention a Beefeater who collects exotic rain, patronizes a tower tavern called The Rack and Ruin and the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh, who pollutes the place by his nightly smoking.

Ms. Stuart has concocted a marvelous confection of a book in which she writes of a unique cast of characters. The occupants of the royal menagerie, established in the tower in the 13th century, range from a royal polar bear that fished for salmon in the Thames to a golden snub-nosed monkey with titian hair christened the duchess of York.

What could have been heavy-handed whimsy has in this writer’s hands become a charming spoof that portrays the life and rather tragic times of Balthazar Jones, overseer of the tower’s royal menagerie and a man whose living quarters, while historic, provide evidence of just how uncomfortably damp life could be in the good old days.

Jones, weighed down by grief over the death of his young son and his failing marriage to Hebe Jones, is a member of that exclusive group known as Beefeaters who are the official guardians of the tower. In the 16th and 17th centuries these yeoman warders, as they were known, not only guarded royal prisoners but sometimes had the task of torturing them.

Jones’ duties are less onerous, but he is less than enthusiastic to hear that his responsibilities have been expanded to include managing a new royal menagerie of the animals given to the monarch as gifts to be moved on the queen’s orders from the London zoo to the tower. The queen, it is explained,considers it rude to return gifts, however unlikely.

A palace equerry sips tea and nibbles scones supposedly handmade by her majesty while describing to Jones the kind of animals he will be caring for. While emphasizing the seven centuries of tradition of a royal menagerie at the tower, the man from the palace notes that her majesty is “rather partial to tortoises” and is aware that Jones is already in possession of the venerable Mrs. Cross. Left unmentioned is the fact that the voracious ravens of the tower, which favor blood-soaked bread in their diet, had chewed off Mrs. Cross’ tail.

Jones’ late son had come up with the ingenious idea of implanting a parsnip where it showed and nobody seemed to notice, perhaps with the exception of Mrs. Cross. According to the emissary, due to be included in the new menagerie are toucans from the president of Peru, a zorilla which is a “highly revered yet uniquely odorous skunklike animal from Africa,” marmosets from Brazil, flying possums that “get depressed if you don’t give them enough attention,” a Russian “glutton” that looks like a small bear and has a huge appetite and a Komodo dragon that “is carnivorous, can take down a horse, and has a ferocious bite.”

In addition, the equerry announces, there will be some crested water dragons known as “Jesus Christ lizards” sent from the president of Costa Rica, and an Etruscan shrew from the president of Portugal that is “the smallest land mammal in the world, can sit in a teaspoon and is so highly strung it can die from being handled.”

On a final note, the man from the palace cautions Jones to keep the lovebirds separated. “They hate each other,” he explains. Jones finds none of this cheering news, especially when the removal of animals from the zoo to the tower turns into the kind of chaos that involves the mysterious disappearance of an entire flock of Argentinian penguins which the beleaguered Beefeater has to justify to the public by explaining they are at the vet’s office.

It is a tribute to Ms. Stuart’s skill that she interweaves a little poignancy into her hilarious story, with a touching account of the death of Milo, small son of Jones and his wife that has resulted in their estrangement.

However, even the character of Hebe Jones is threaded with dark humor because she works at the Department of Lost Property at the London underground, where the lost are neatly packaged yet often never found or even sought. The author digs into that gold mine. The department’s most frequent customer is “cloud thin” Samuel Crapper, who comes to retrieve a lost tomato plant and doesn’t realize that four of its tomatoes had already been eaten on toasted cheese.

And there is the account of how the ashes of his dead wife were restored to a man crushed by their loss. He is not only overjoyed but promptly goes out and plants the urn in his back garden. There is even what passes for a happy ending because the queen decides to send the menagerie back to the zoo, with the exception of the Etruscan shrew that died without anyone noticing.

Jones is reunited with his wife, and finds he misses the bearded pig that used to snuggle up to him between games of roll the grapefruit. But he is consoled that the depressed wandering albatross cheers up when it finds its mate is still waiting for it at the zoo.
 
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Epigraph
We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals. —Immanuel Kant
Dedication
For Joan
First words
Standing on the battlements in his pajamas, Balthazar Jones looked out across the Thames where Henry III's polar bear had once fished for salmon while tied to a rope.
Quotations
“A lucky person is one who plants pebbles and harvests potatoes.”  ~ Hebe Jones
"Don't extend your feet beyond the blanket."  ~ Hebe Jones
"Don't sprout where you haven't been planted."  ~ Hebe Jones
"An old hen is worth 40 chickens." ~  Hebe Jones
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Moving to the reputedly haunted Hampton Court Palace of Queen Victoria when her father's untimely death renders her penniless, Indian princess Alexandrina is befriended by three eccentric widows before her faithful lady's maid, Pooki, is wrongly accused of murder.… (more)

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