This elegant little novel is narrated from the point of view of Gilbert White of Selborne's pet tortoise, Timothy. For White, the great 18th-century British naturalist, Timothy was both an object of warm domestic affection and cool scientific observation, but for Timothy - at least according to the fictional version presented here - White and most of the other humans encountered by the venerable creature continually misunderstood and misrepresented him; so here, in his own book, Timothy gets to set the record straight, and offer the tortoise's-eye view of the world. He is, for example, continually surprised at humanity's lack of a fitting home (in contrast to his own snug shell): 'Great soft tottering beasts. Houses never by when they need them. Even the humblest villagers live in ill-fitting houses. The greater the personage the worse the fit', and he is eloquent on the subject of the dreamy pleasures of hibernation ('Earth beneath me throbs with warmth. Cold black sky presses down. Current of memory tugs at me...')
The danger of a fictional device such as having a tortoise for a narrator is that it could come to seem whimsical over the course of an entire novel, but the way that the author slyly reverses the sometimes arrogant human observation of the natural world, to present nature's view of humanity, is wonderfully done, and in the end Klingenborg succeeds in creating not only a sympathetic historical character, with a voice and personality all his own, but a powerful ecological fable for our times.