Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been on a reading bend lately and have managed to make it through three books in the past ten days. Water for Elephants is in that list and immediately became my favourite novel from the pile of books I have read in the past month.
Gruen does a fantastic job fleshing out the protagonist Jacob Jankowski who is introduced to us as an elderly man who is captive in a nursing home, surrounded by seniors who are apparently in their last stages of life. He has the perhaps unfortunate gift of retaining his mental acuity despite the people around him insisting that he needs help walking. His biggest gripe is the lack of quality in the nursing home food: no cream, salt, fresh fruit…
Immediately I warmed to the character. I often find it difficult to be empathetic towards a story’s protagonist as they can quickly become annoying and unpalatable to me. Jacob, however, maintains his warming characteristics right through the entire novel which came as a relief to me.
I won’t go much into the plot as I don’t want to spoil it for future readers (READ THIS BOOK!), but I will say that the story is gripping and fascinating as it details what life was life for those working in the travelling circus during the Great Depression. Even though the story is not based on true events, the milieu described is representative of what the working life was like for the performers and simple labourers. The treatment of the animals, the reaction of the crowds to the display of pomp and debauchery—no details are left untouched but at the same time, the novel does not seem overly wordy.
As the events played out in the novel, I found myself more and more drawn into the story, I read late into the night, dragging myself to work the next day. It is a strong and well written piece of literature. My one complaint was that I found the dialogue between the characters at the end of the novel somewhat stilted and different than the beginning, perhaps because things snowball at an alarming rate toward the end and everything seems to happen at once.
After having started the novel, I made an impulsive decision to watch the recently released movie before finishing the book. I find that I typically enjoy watching the movie before reading the book, so I went with my gut and I did not regret the choice. Even though the movie does make brave choice of rolling two of the main characters into one, I found that it was effective and the novel may even have worked well that way. The cast did a wonderful job and I found Marlena even more compelling on the big screen than on the pages.
Both the movie and the novel are greatly enjoyable and I highly recommend them to anyone. I loved that it was a quick read and I didn’t have to struggle through overly descriptive prose. I hope you pick it up and give it a try; I promise you will not be disappointed.
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