cover image Timothy: Or, Notes of an Abject Reptile

Timothy: Or, Notes of an Abject Reptile

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Author . Knopf $16.95 (177p) ISBN 978-0-67

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.)