Review: The Back of the Turtle
Written By: Thomas King
Reviewed By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)
The Back of the Turtle is Thomas King’s first novel in 15 years and as usual he does not disappoint. He draws upon Native and Christian mythology in his book and his play of words is interesting and intriguing.
The plot of King’s novel moves back and forth in time, and is told through five points of view, and though sometimes it can be a bit difficult to follow, overall the story is an interesting one- one that draws upon not so much about creation but about betrayal, disaster, salvation and the resilience of life.
Gabriel Quinn is a scientist who works for a company called Domidion-a company that deals with various environmental developments and disasters. Just think of Monsanto or Exxon. Quinn feeling tortured by what the company does abandons his laboratory to return to Smoke River Reserve, where his mother and sister lived. He finds upon his return that almost everyone in the community has disappeared. They and the natural wildlife surrounding the reserve have been poisoned by an environmental disaster known as the Ruin.
Quinn is a tortured soul and wants to commit suicide. We learn the reason why he wants to end his life and it’s because he is responsible for the environmental disaster that hit his reserve, and he is there to witness the destruction he created and walk into the sea and die.
Upon his arrival at Samaritan Bay (the beach and waters where he attempts to take his life), Quinn finds the only signs of life are a stray dog named Soldier, an Indigenous artist Mara, a kid named Sonny who runs a dilapidated motel with an absentee father and an old man named Nicholas Crisp.
Quinn strikes up an unlikely relationship with Soldier and Mara and you learn to favor Quinn and Mara more than you would Dorian Asher, the CEO of Domidion, who is the villain in The Back of the Turtle. Asher is the type of person who becomes wealthy presiding over Domidion, the Ruin and other disasters, and he treats everything personal and corporate like they are deals with certain levels of priority to them. Oil spills, no big deal, tar sands disasters, who cares etc.
Mara and Gabriel are the characters I learned to like because they are more human and feel things on a deeper level than Dorian Asher. When you witness the interplay between Mara and Gabriel, you find yourself caught up in wondering where their relationship is going to go and what’s going to happen to them, especially when Gabriel has his off and on again wish to die.
King tells the story in The Back of the Turtle in his usual witty and mischievous way, just like in his books The Truth About Stories, A Short History of Indians in Canada and other works. King is one of those authors you want to read no matter what.
The Back of the Turtle is the winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Award and is published by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. It is 518 pages.