My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a wonderful book. It’s an account by Tom Page, the elephant keeper of the title, of his relationship with two elephants in 18th century England, and it manages, with no apparent effort, to talk about the nature of love, power structures and their effect on human relationships, notions of the afterlife, landscape gardening and a host of other things. It does so with grace, humour, depth and, above all – perhaps unexpectedly, given that the core of the book describes the love and respect a man can have for an animal – humanity. In an age of taxonomists and dictionary-makers, of professional hermits and travelling menageries, the book gives value to similarity above difference, to care above indifference. Tom Page is a wonderfully conceived character: courageous, touching, stubborn, but with a streak of anti-heroic realism that keeps the reader on tenterhooks. He can also be very funny. I don’t think I’ve used the word unputdownable before. I must have been saving it for this novel. I recommend it to everyone.