Timothy's Book

Notes Of An English Country Tortoise

Verlyn Klinkenborg

Published: 14 June 2007
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 192 pages
ISBN: 9781846270550


Timothy, a wise and eloquent tortoise, has spent some fifty years among humans, living in their midst in the lovely Hampshire village of Selborne, the occasional object of study for his host, Gilbert White, whose letters famously comprise The Natural History of Selborne. But Timothy is inclined to study too. His observations of the natural world that surrounds him can match those of his master for aptness, precision, illumination and beauty - his gaze falls with equal aplomb on the flitting martins and swallows, trooping frogs, mating harvest mice, hares nibbling at the cabbage and, above all, on those 'tottering, stilt-gaited beasts', their instincts so derelict, who tower over Timothy and make their odd ways known to him. Who would guess that a tortoise marooned in the heart of old England could tell us so much? This is a wise, severe and unforgettable old tortoise's own short history of humanity. It is perfect for the Telegraph-to-Attenborough readership, for twitchers, ramblers and National Trusters, for readers of Richard Mabey's Nature Cure and Richard Benson's The Farm, Horatio Clare and The Lore of the Land.

About the author

Image of Verlyn Klinkenborg

Verlyn Klinkenborg is the author of three previous books: Making Hay, The Last Fine Time and The Rural Life. He is on the editorial board of the New York Times, and he lives on a farm in upstate New York with his wife. More about the author


‘A charming and most enjoyable work ... Klinkenborg's prose is a pleasure to read’ Richard Adams, author of WATERSHIP DOWN



‘A droll and wise work of the highest imagination - and one of the best mediations on slowness, patience and endurance I've ever read.’ Bill McKibben

‘A luminous act of imagination and perspective. A clarion call to reconsider our place, our tack, in the modern world.’ Barry Lopez

‘A masterfully imagined meditation on nature, biography, memory, legacy, faith and the cruelty of good intentions... [Klinkenborg] endows his Timothy with the sort of stoic wisdom and grace that blur, even transcend, species boundaries. Like any self-aware, well-connected small-town matron of broad experience and accumulated age, Timothy is gossipy, meticulously observant, superior in the face of insult and, with her sensuous vocabulary and heretical notions, utterly spellbinding.’

‘Against many kinds of odds, Timothy's Book seduces and succeeds. Through drought and flood, snowstorm and heatwave. . . the tortoise brings White's bustling backwater to radiant new life. . . Klinkenborg makes something original and beguiling from his sources. . . You'd bet on Timothy against a high-flown hare any day.’

‘Brilliant and audacious’ Richard Mabey, author of NATURE CURE

‘Elegantly, succinctly and beautifully written, full of wisdom and strangeness. The sort of book that finds its place at once on your beside table, a permanent place, a place for life. I don't know anyone I would not give this book to. I cannot imagine knowing a person who did not take it to their heart immediately.’ Susan Hill

‘First and foremost, the book is fun. Timothy's voice is wry and perceptive. It leaves a warm glow, and what could be better than that that in today's world. Highly recommended!’ Dr Janet Browne, biographer of Charles Darwin

‘It is difficult to imagine a greater exercise of imaginative force than Timothy, in which Verlyn Klinkenborg imagines himself squarely into the blunt head and watchful mind of an aged tortoise... He has written an extraordinary book that, like all good art, rescues us from dailyness -- from, as Timothy would say, our terrible speed -- and makes our world again large and wondrous, a book that swings from funny to wise to sad often in a single sentence or phrase and puts profoundly into question humanity's apostasy from the greater world about it.’

‘Klinkenborg has constructed probably the most comprehensive biography yet of an 18th-century tortoise. Through his charming first-hand account of Timothy's chewings and dawdlings, Klinkenborg observes the slow-paced daily life of rural England and White's edifying sensitivity to his environment.’

‘Something rather magical occurs in these pages. . . Our human blindfolds fall away, Timothy comes down off the shelf of the Natural History Museum and comes alive, delivering what to me is the most satisfying mediation on life and the natural world since Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.’

‘The notion of a garden-level view...narrated by a querulous "English country tortoise", suggests a sickly anthropomorphism best left to children's books. But Verlyn Klinkenborg gives Timothy powers of observation equal to his owner's and a stiff philosophical mindset as well as a hard shell, charm and slow humour.’

‘The observed becomes the observer, issuing a sometimes bitter, sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious critique of the relationship between humanity and nature in the Enlightenment, the summit of Western hubris.... In what may be the greatest irony in a novel rich with them, Klinkenborg has turned to a moment in our cultural history so averse to nature, and found in that moment a way to affirm nature, simply by giving it a voice. In the din of our times, that may be one voice worth listening to... wry and charming.’

‘This imaginative book...is utterly enchanting.’

‘This tortoise-eye view of life ... is a treat to read’

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