Monday, June 26, 2006

Abject reptile, indeed!

Timothy, or, Notes of an Abject Reptile - Verlyn Klinkenborg

What can I say about a tortoise whose vocabulary is wider than mine? Within the first 20 pages, I had to look up umbrageous, tegument, venerey, borecole, hirundines, and sainfroin. (Thank heavens, Timothy provided a glossary.) Timothy, the eponymous abject reptile, was not showing off. He simply was using the best, most precise words he needed for his observations - the same vocabulary that Gilbert White, a 18th-century naturalist, used when he described Timothy in The Natural History of Selborne, published in 1789.

It was White who called Timothy "abject reptile." Abject he may have seemed, but he was, really, a close observer of humanity - and not a particularly fond observer, at that.

Humans, he concluded, made their fundamental mistake when they ceased to think of themselves as animals and replaced instinct with intellect.

Timothy scoffed at the animals that humans have become. "Every garment a divorce from nature... Disdaining the flesh that keeps them from heaven ... but able to argue upward from themselves to God." He is amused particularly by sentimentality ("now the rooks are saying their prayers," says a little girl).

White writes that Timothy is "a reptile that appears to relish [life] so little as to squander more than two thirds of its existence in a joyless stupor, and be lost to all sensation for months together in the profoundest of slumbers."

"Mr. Gilbert White's stupors! How joyful are they?" sputters Timothy. As well he might.

This book is a phrase-perfect parody of a well-meaning amateur's notes. Timothy himself is a worthy companion, whose story includes a plot twist that shows just how inobservant humans can be.

Don't miss this one!

1 comment:

Jennhx said...

Great review, Melanie. I'll have to check this one out (after the Summer Reading Challenge is over of course)!