The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King is probably one of the most Canadian books I have ever read. Shocking, perhaps, considering Canada is also home to prolific writers like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. However, I have not actually read much of their work at this point. I do have some of their work on my To Read list for the year, so I will hopefully get to a few.
The Back of the Turtle is about a man’s return to Smoke River, the location of an environmental disaster that killed the population in the area, including this man’s family. However, the man who has just returned was also indirectly responsible for the crisis itself. As he is about to kill himself, he spots someone in the waves and rushes to save them. Soon, he is saving others.
Thomas King writes high quality prose. His sentences and word choice are great, and although he is not perfect—no one is—I would not complain about his writing in a technical sense. I also think the premise behind his story, highlighting the after effects of such a devastating disaster, is something quite interesting and definitely appropriate for current society. I would not change the story.
However, despite the quality prose and interesting premise, I did not connect with this story the way I have with the ones I really like. When this happens, it can be for any number of reasons. Two of the most common, however, are timing and if I chose the book for myself. More often than not, the two actually coincide. I spent four years studying many books as part of my degree from university. I did not choose to read them. The only exception to this was when I signed up for a Tolkien course, where I already knew which books would be on the book list. Apart from that, I never really knew what would be on the list.
When someone forces me to read a book, I find I am less likely to enjoy it. I can still appreciate the quality of the writing, but I often feel disconnected to the story. I think the closest I came to pure enjoyment out of all the books assigned during my university career, excluding the Lord of the Rings books, would have to have been Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I know this came into play when I was reading The Back of the Turtle, as I read it for the book club I am a part of in my city.
I was actually surprised I did not connect with the story much, as the premise is fascinating. Normally, I enjoy reading books that deal with the after effects of a disaster, such as the trilogy dealing with sending 100 kids (some young adults) to the ground. If this sounds familiar, you are probably thinking of the television show The 100. It was based on a trilogy of books by Kass Morgan.
I would still recommend reading this book if my earlier description of it sparked any interest. You can easily search online for a description with more detail if you want more information before making a decision. The reason I am still recommending it is because it is high-quality writing and the story itself is good. I simply think it was the wrong time for me to read this book, but as I said, I had to for my book club.
Title: The Back of the Turtle
Author: Thomas King