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The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise Reader’s Guide

By Julia Stuart

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

READERS GUIDE

In the tradition of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Chocolat, Julia Stuart’s exquisite new novel is brimming with charm, whimsy, and wonder. The following questions are intended to enhance your reading experience and to generate lively discussion among the members of your book group.

Introduction

Brimming with charm and whimsy, this exquisite novel set in the Tower of London has the transportive qualities and delightful magic of the contemporary classics Chocolat and Amélie.

Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s right, he is a Beefeater (they really do live there). It’s no easy job living and working in the tourist attraction in present-day London.

Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens a series of principled erot­ica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens.

When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interest­ing. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away.

Filled with the humor and heart that calls to mind the delight­ful novels of Alexander McCall Smith, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a magical, wholly origi­nal novel whose irresistible characters will stay with you long after you turn the stunning last page.


CAST OF CHARACTERS
Balthazar Jones
: Beefeater, overseer of the Tower’s royal menagerie, father to Milo, and collector of rain
Hebe Jones: Balthazar’s wife who works at London Underground’s Lost Property Office
Mrs. Cook: Balthazar and Hebe’s 180 + year-old tortoise—the oldest tortoise in the world
Arthur Catnip: London Underground ticket inspector of limited height 
Rev. Septimus Drew: Tower chaplain who writes forbidden prose and pines for one of the residents 
Ruby Dore: Barmaid at the Tower’s Rack & Ruin pub who has a secret
Valerie Jennings: Hebe’s eccentric colleague who falls for someone of limited height
The Ravenmaster: Philandering Beefeater who looks after the Tower’s ravens
Sir Walter Raleigh: Former Tower prisoner and its most troublesome ghost
Chief Yeoman Warder: Suspicious head Beefeater
Oswin Fielding: Equerry to The Queen
Samuel Crapper: Lost Property Office’s most frequent customer
Yeoman Gaoler: Deputy to the Chief Yeoman Warder who is terrorized by ghostly poetry at night

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. While filled with humour, The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise has an undercurrent of heartache. Why do you think the author included the tragic element—could the story have survived without it?

2. The novel is strewn with historical anecdotes. Which do you think are true, and which do you think the author made up, if any?

3. Much is made of British humour. Do you think that there is any difference between British and American humour? If so, how is it demonstrated in the book?

4. Explain the correlation between Balthazar’s inability to cry about Milo’s death and his obsession with collecting rain drops.

5. Hebe Jones sarcastically states that “It’s every woman’s dream to live in a castle.” (p. 22) How is this statement not true for Hebe. What do you think is Hebe’s dream?

6. What is the main attraction between Arthur Catnip and Valerie Jennings? How are they a well-suited match?

7. How is the lost safe significant to Hebe and Valerie?  Is their any significance to the timing of when the lock is opened?

8. Reverend Septimus Drew seems to be a walking contradiction. Outside of his hidden hobby, what else is surprising/contradictory about his character?

9. All of the characters seem to be in search of something—whether lost love, items, loved ones, or animals. Who do you think is the most fulfilled character in the book, if there is any? Why?

10. Sir Walter Raleigh and many other spirits claim to haunt the Tower. What element do these ghosts add to the book? Is it more spiritual or superstitious? 

11. What is the significance of the urn that Hebe finds in London Underground’s Lost Property Office? Why is she so resolved to find its owner?

12. Explain how infidelity affects various characters in the book.

13. How does working in the menagerie make Balthazar feel closer to Milo?

14. What role does Mrs. Cook play in the novel? She is in part responsible for Balthazar’s job at the menagerie—how else has she played an integral role in Hebe and Balthazar’s lives?

15. What role does storytelling and letter writing play in the book? Balthazar won both Hebe and Milo’s hearts with his grand storytelling. Who else from the Tower is a raconteur?


(For a complete list of a available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com.)

About this Author

Julia Stuart is an award-winning journalist and the author of one previous novel, The Matchmaker of Périgord. She lives in London.
 
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