Synopses & Reviews
Set in the popular tourist attraction in present-day London, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise
is an exquisite story of love, loss, and a one-hundred-eighty-one-year-old pet.
Balthazar Jones has lived and worked in the Tower of London for the past eight years. Being a Beefeater is no easy job, and when Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie of the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, giraffes go missing, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent tourists running for their lives. Still, that chaos is nothing compared to what happens when his wife, Hebe, makes a surprise announcement. What’s a Beefeater to do?
About the Author
Julia Stuart is an award-winning journalist and the author of one previous novel, The Matchmaker of Périgord. She lives in London.
Reading Group 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.
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?
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