Nesa Sivagnanam's Reviews > Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo

Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart
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's review
Jan 29, 2012

it was amazing
Read in January, 2012

The queen, has decided to move her collection of exotic animals, gifted by foreign leaders, from London Zoo to the Tower of London in a bid to boost visitor numbers.

This, as beefeater Balthazar Jones discovers, is not without precedent - the Tower has been home to menageries of varying sizes for much of its history since the Middle Ages.

But this is the 21st century and the community of beefeaters who live in the Tower's maze of buildings, working largely as tour guides, are less than impressed with their new four-legged and winged charges.

None less so than Jones, official keeper of the new menagerie, based largely on his ownership of the world's oldest tortoise.

Jones' wife Hebe leaves the cloistered chaos of the Tower every day for her job in the more contemplative, if equally surreal, world of the London Underground lost-property office where - with her co-worker Valerie (often found with her head stuck in a pantomime horse) - she takes temporary ownership of everything from drawers of false teeth to a magician's cabinet and an urn of human ashes.

Amid all this oddity, the Joneses are struggling, indeed failing, to cope with the death of their son Milo.

Although at its heart this is a story of grief, loneliness and miscommunication, thanks to Stuart's light touch and gift for warm, dry humour, it is also a delightful gem of a novel, filled with absurdity, hilarity and poignancy in equal measures.

It is chocka with quirky characters - such as Reverend Septimus Drew, secret author of award-winning erotic fiction and unexpectedly pregnant barmaid Ruby Dore - and almost all of them are fighting their own, often very funny, battles against loneliness and unrequited love.

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