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Turtle Diary

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  1,424 ratings  ·  194 reviews
The turtles in London Zoo become the mutual obsession of two lonely strangers who dream of setting free the turtles and themselves. Detail by detail their diaries record a world in which thought leads to action and action brings William G. and Neaera H. to their own open sea.
Paperback, 182 pages
Published September 4th 2000 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published March 20th 1975)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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Review published in 3:AM Magazine:

It would be understandable to expect Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary to be a light-hearted romantic comedy, one where two lonely protagonists come together over a crazy caper, a plan to set free the sea turtles in the London Zoo, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Fortunately, Hoban’s 1975 novel bears little resemblance to this simplistic narrative. Instead, Turtle Diary is a quiet, thoughtful examination of the lone
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it


This is my first Hoban, and I hope others will follow it, but perhaps not his volumes for children, although I wish I had grown with them.

Anyway I will try to summarise my impression of this novel with a small firmament.

Story: Four stars

Structure: Four and a half stars

Language: Seven stars (what a pleasure it was to read his clear and unencumbered prose).

Characterization: Four stars.

Ecological content: Fourteen stars (not Fifteen for as the video in
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those searching for the light within themselves
Recommended to Dolors by: Kris
Shelves: read-in-2013
“The things that matter don’t necessarily make sense. My end seemed immanent in every breath and my beginning seemed never to have happened.” William G. (page 160)

"In my end is my beginning" cries out William’s subconscious in desperation, quoting T.S. Eliot’s words, while three fine specimens of turtles swim in the green deep ocean towards a destiny they carry within themselves. He doesn’t know if they will ever get there, that’s why they will always be swimming in his mind.
William is a m
Moira Russell
I read and reread this years and years ago when it was one of the few Hobans around -- until the end of the nineties if you were a Hoban fan it was hard going. I had to quit rereading it because I worried I'd burn it out for myself (this actually happened with Good Omens and a few other books! SAD). Now there's a Hoban renaissance, and NYRB has just reissued it (my first, very used copy has this amazingly ugly cover: So now I'm going to read it through ...more
Vit Babenco
Oct 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“They won’t stop killing the whales. They make dog- and cat-food out of them, face creams, lipstick. They kill the whales to feed the dogs so the dogs can shit on the pavement and the people can walk in it. A kind of natural cycle.”
There are some books that can accommodate much more than the number of their pages may suggest, and Turtle Diary is one of those.
Turtle Diary is a tale of loneliness and isolation:
“When I opened the door to my flat it was like opening a box of stale time. Old time, de
Jun 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

What happens if a man with the past meets a woman who’s been through a lot?

Two embittered mid aged loners drifting on life’s surface. William, the divorced father of two girls , living in rented room and working in bookshop. And Naera, single writer of children’s stories, with a water – beetle as a pet. Get the picture ? I can imagine what you’re thinking now. But it’s not just like that.

It was quite easy to spoil it and write another unbearable mawkish easy read, bogged down in sentimental pse
An ode to loneliness.

Two people, in alternating voices, takes the reader though their life experiences, thoughts, and social disconnection from society.

William G. (45), a bookstore clerk, and Neaera H. (43), a successful children books author, both, independently, share a solicitous passion for sea turtles. They become erudited about the animals in their lonely pursuit of meaning in their lives. Just to mean something to someone or something would validate their existence.

They both write diari
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb-classics
Green Turtles. Chelonia mydas. They feed along the coast of Brazil but once a year they swim 1,400 miles to Ascension Island to breed. Ascension Island is only five miles long. How the turtles find that little out-of-way island motel, no one knows. They've always been going there, as long as man has tracked these things. The turtles are hard-wired, in some naturally selective way, to do this. The very idea is irresistibly beautiful.

The turtles tryst there in spite of real peril, such as sharks.
" I think of the turtles swimming steadily against the current all the way to Ascension. I think of them swimming through all that golden-green water over the dark, over the chill of the deeps and the jaws of the dark. And I think of the sun over the water, the sun through the water, the eye holding the sun, being held by it with no thought and only the rhythm of the going, the steady wing-strokes of the flippers in the water. Then it doesn’t seen hard to believe. It seems the only way to do it, ...more
This is the third Russell Hoban book I've read and even though the writing and the storyline are very different to those of Riddley Walker and Kleinzeit, in a blind reading test (!!!), I would still guess Hoban had written this book as there are little clues dropped here and there which echo details from the other two books, eg., smoking, mirrors and advertising (advertising is all smoke and mirrors?).
Also common to the three is the sense of a journey needing to be made but one which may or may
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
People write books for children and other people write about the books written for children but I don't think it's for the children at all. I think that all the people who worry so much about the children are really worrying about themselves, about keeping their world together and getting the children to help them do it, getting the children to agree that it is indeed a world. Each new generation of children has to be told: 'This is a world, this is what one does, one lives like this.' Maybe our ...more
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Tej by: Dolors & Kris
How do they not think about the sharks when they’re swimming that 1,400 miles? Green turtles must have the kind of mind that doesn’t think about sharks unless a shark is there. That must be how it is with them. I can’t believe they’d swim 1,400 miles thinking about sharks. Sea turtles can’t shut themselves up in their shells as land turtles do.

So shrieked Sartre, “Man is condemned to be free”. This condemnation is as difficult to imagine as it is obvious and plausible. Freedom as condemnatio
Stephen P(who no longer can participate due to illness)

A bewildering story in its simplicity. I cupped its crystalline wine glass with both hands, soft.
Delicate in its structure it could crack without event. The thin line was likely to traverse in a snaked spread.
I felt the first skein separate towards the end. Many of my preconceptions tumbled, then the glass fall apart in my palms. Small pieces reflected light with gem-shine.
Although a slow reader, and following Kris's advisory warnings to read this book slow, I finished within two days. S
J.M. Hushour
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a quiet and charming little book, the kind of thing you'd imagine Wes Anderson to adapt into a film, awkward and patently-patiently low-key. Two middle-aged, flailing people in London plot, quite independently at first, to kidnap sea turtles from the zoo and set them free in the ocean. Then they meet, quite by accident. That's about it. The story doesn't require much more. In fact, it's real beauty lies in the simplistic way that it behaves: the novel does nothing that you want it to do. ...more
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished-in-2014
A change of pace and a slow stroll, if that's what you're seeking. The theme is loneliness, in this case that of a middle-aged bookstore clerk (William G.) and a middle-aged children's book author (Neaera H.), who are brought together by a singular (and "singular") desire to free not the whales but the sea turtles in a London zoo's aquarium.

What's odd is how the plot and actual execution of the turtle liberation is incidental to the book. The delightful devil is in the details, the casual everyd
Simply a five star read. A little gem of a story. William and Naera, each lonely and looking for a way forward in life find their paths inexplicably joined after visiting the London Zoo. Their quest is to free the giant sea turtles from captivity.

At heart this novel is about loneliness and the desire to connect. Can't give too much away without spoiling the plot but the title is a little misleading as it's not just a "turtle story", it's so much more. It's beautifully written humorous and sad in
James Murphy
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rereading. What a beautiful novel. The copy I read this time, the NYRB edition, has blurbs by John Fowles calling it a human fable and one by The Times calling it a fantasy. But it seems to me a novel positing shining possibility.
I came across this book when I read Proustitute's review, and as always, he steered me in a good direction. When I first read the description, it sounded a bit like John Irving's debut novel, Setting Free the Bears, and Hoban does use a few ideas from Irving, but the similarity is limited.

Turtle Diary is actually two diaries, one written by William G., a recently divorced father of two currently working a deadend job in a bookstore, and one written by Neaera H., a 40-something single woman and s
Doug H
Jan 11, 2018 added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
“Last night I had a dream thought that I held on to carefully until this morning. It was: Those who know it have forgotten every part of it, those who don’t know it remember it completely. Aggravating. Those who know or don’t know what? I haven’t a clue and what’s most annoying is that something in me knows what was meant.”

Aggravating is right! So close to finishing, but I just can’t take any more.
Nicholas During
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very bleak look at middle age loneliness in a contemporary city, London, with the existential questions about moder life that come from it. Hoban is probably always a very philosophical fiction writing, with grand ideas running through quite explicitly through the narrative of his novels (at least Riddley Walker and this one which are the only ones I've read). At times there might not be too much of this, and not enough plot to push the reader through. But I think the patient reader ends up be ...more
Chuck LoPresti
Aug 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A perfect day for turtle soup. File this somewhere between The Tennants of Moonbloom, short-form Salinger and perhaps Amis' Lucky Jim. So easy to read due to a light touch and great character development - Turtle Diary will please just about anybody interested in romance, reflection and reality. Set in the 1970's England - the characters are intelligent and observant people gently shaving parmesan cheese into the slowly cooling minestrone of their lives both past and present. And like that 10CC ...more
Paul Secor
Sep 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thanks to Rod for recommending this to me. I'd seen the film (at least 20 years ago) before reading the book and, as I recall, the film was pretty much true to the book, which is somewhat unusual in my experience. ...more
Apr 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Today I had a realization: the books I like best are the books about lonely people. Give me lonely people, and lonely people only; I give less than a damn about the others.

Seriously: who would want to watch, say, a romantic comedy about a handsome chap who can get any girl he wants, so he sits around being choosy, saying, Anna's nose is rather nicer-looking than Bertha's, but Cynthia has a better investment portfolio than either, while Daphne makes just the kind of lemon cake I like best, so may
Marc Gerstein
The story is simple and has the quality of the sort of feel good fairy-tale type movies I never go to see; humans with big hearts love and do great things for animals in need. Here, William, a middle-aged divorcee and assistant manager at a bookstore and Nearea, a middle-aged single writer-illustrator of children’s books don’t know each other but separately decided to free sea turtles from their limited prison-like zoo existence. Naturally, William and Nearea meet up and join efforts, win suppor ...more
Two people, stuck in their respective lives, are suffering from a sort of middle aged slump. The high points of their lives are going to the London Zoo and occasionally their respective literary professions. Neaera H. is a children's book writer who watches her water bug looking for inspiration for her overdue next book. William G. works in a book shop after his marriage dissolves, frustrated that his life has come to this point.

Turtle Diary is told in alternating points of view from each of th
There are some books that make me want to writhe around sideways on the floor in a pained sort of thrilled excitement, kind of like when you have to talk to someone very attractive and can't look at them directly in the face, like your eye repels them magnetically. Like that.

This book is like that.
Apr 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2007_books
By the author of my favorite children's book--A Mole Family Christmas. Didn't ruin my childhood memories, and that's saying something for a book that has both sex and phrases and themes you recognize from the life of Delver Mole and his family . ...more
Cynthia Dunn
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
Thanks to Kris for recommending this book. I never would have known about it otherwise.
William Leight
Dec 08, 2013 rated it liked it
“Turtle Diary” demonstrates that it is not easy for an author to force a story to change its nature. For roughly its first third, the nature of this book is clear: it's an off-beat romantic comedy. Our protagonists, William and Neaera (who narrate, via what are presumably supposed to be extracts from their diaries, though they don’t have a particularly strong diary feel to them), are both lonely, middle-aged, and neurotic: Neaera is a children’s book author who has grown sick of writing children ...more
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rather gloomy tale about two soul weary people who share an adventure that slowly allows them to emerge from their bleak everyday existence and develop a bit of optimism about the world and their future in it. I liked that this didn't quite go as I'd assumed. I thought it would be a bit more of an adventure story, stealing sea turtles from the zoo and setting them free in Cornwall. I fancied the experience wrought by the adventure would change the rescuers in an obvious and dramatic fashion, but ...more
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NYRB Classics: Turtle Diary, by Russell Hoban 1 11 Oct 30, 2013 09:11PM  

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Russell Conwell Hoban was an American expatriate writer. His works span many genres, including fantasy, science fiction, mainstream fiction, magical realism, poetry, and children's books. He lived in London, England, from 1969 until his death. (Wikipedia) ...more

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Why not focus on some serious family drama? Not yours, of course, but a fictional family whose story you can follow through the generations of...
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“A turtle doesn't have to decide every morning whether to keep on bothering, it just carries on. Maybe that's why man kills everything: envy.” 10 likes
“I think of the turtles swimming steadily against the current all the way to Ascension. I think of them swimming through all that golden-green water over the dark, over the chill of the deeps and the jaws of the dark. And I think of the sun over the water, the sun through the water, the eye holding the sun, being held by it with no thought and only the rhythm of the going, the steady wing-strokes of the flippers in the water. Then it doesn’t seen hard to believe. It seems the only way to do it, the only way in fact to be: swimming, swimming, the eye held by the sun, no sharks in the mind, nothing in the mind.” 10 likes
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