The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King


turtleThis book begins with an attempted suicide. Gabriel Quinn is a scientist desperate to atone for his role in an environmental disaster that has wiped out a native reservation in British Colombia. He has come to the scene of the spill to pay for his mistakes but instead he finds himself forming friendships with some of the remaining residents.  Gabriel’s experiences are contrasted with the life of Dorian Asher, the CAO of the corporation responsible for the spill.  Dorian insulates himself from reality behind a wall of luxury goods and does not lose sleep over the occasional chemical leak provided it has no lasting impact on stock prices.

What the Armchair Critics Thought:

Despite the serious subject matter, this was a light read, with short, page-turning chapters told from alternating points of view and differing time periods. The symbolism of the escaped turtle is contrasted with the beached tanker of toxic waste – the two inexplicably switching coasts during the course of the novel.  This is a morality tale with archetypical characters (greedy corporate leader, noble residents, penitent scientist); but it is balanced with humour and relatable moments.  The heart of the book belongs to the town architect – Crisp, who keeps an eye on the survivors, and saves their belongings until they are ready to return.  The novel ends on a hopeful note, with the turtles returning to their traditional home. 



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