Esio Trot (by Roald Dahl)

Over the years since my sons were small, we collected most of Roald Dahl’s books for children. They’re all rather bizarre, some of them including very unpleasant adults; but the writing is good and the humour often appeals to children.

When I realised that my three-year-old grandson liked books rather longer than those expected for his age, I scoured my shelves (and our local thrift store) for those intended for early readers. Knowing he would want a whole book read aloud in one sitting, unless each chapter was complete in itself, I wanted to find books that would interest him, but which were no more than about 100 pages. After reading a couple of other Roald Dahl books, more than once, I tried him with ‘Esio Trot’.

I don’t remember if I’d read this book before. I suspect not, although I was aware that the title is the word ‘tortoise’ backwards. I was a little surprised, in the first pages, to learn that it’s a story of undeclared love: that of the elderly Mr Hoppy, who lives in a flat right above that of a lady called Mrs Silver. The two of them speak to each other when they’re out on their balconies, but he’s never plucked up the courage even to invite her for a cup of tea.

Mrs Silver’s first love is her tortoise Alfie, and much of their conversation revolves around him. Dahl doesn’t mention what she does when Alfie is hibernating. But the plot starts to move when she bemoans the fact that he isn’t growing, and Mr Hoppy has a brilliant idea…

At least, the book presents it as a brilliant idea. The first time I read it, I became more and more dubious, since Mr Hoppy’s plan involves serious deception. It’s ridiculous, of course; the descriptions are quite amusing (and there are typical line drawings by Quentin Blake every few pages, to add to this). I don’t think my grandson considered the morality of the story. He liked the words, and the ideas, and, perhaps, the educational nature of the book as far as tortoises are concerned.

In other Dahl stories, there’s at least an element of morality. In - for instance - ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Charlie wins due to his nice nature and his integrity. In ‘The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me’, which I liked very much, the strange window-cleaning team are rewarded for stopping a crime. Even in ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’, George is badly bullied by his grandmother so his bizarre concoction is somewhat understandable, albeit not recommended. But in this book, deception, theft and lies are shown as the way to a woman’s heart.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking it, but I really didn’t like this story much, despite the humour, and wouldn’t recommend it.


Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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