Turtle Thoughts (Two of Them)
February 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
I finished Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary on the train this morning, and, wouldn’t you know it, today’s his birthday.
Hoban, a Pennsylvanian who lived most of his life in London, was born in 1925 and died in 2011, leaving behind a wondrous collection of sixteen novels for adults and even more for children. Turtle Diary—in which two aloof, single Londoners conspire to free sea turtles from the zoo—was reissued last year and should be required reading for anyone who lives alone, feels alone, or may one day reckon with loneliness. It’s endlessly quotable, and not in the cheap, aphoristic way that people sometimes mean when they say “endlessly quotable”—Hobanisms do not belong on tea bags or T-shirts, or even necessarily in Bartlett’s. It’s more that the whole novel demands to be read aloud, ideally to an audience of one. It might be most fitting, actually, if you read it aloud to yourself. To celebrate Hoban’s birthday, here are two of the novel’s many delightful “turtle thoughts”:
The sign said: “The Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, is the source of turtle soup … ” I am the source of William G. soup if it comes to that. Everyone is the source of his or her kind of soup.
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 seem 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.