June 08, 2010

Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen


Water For Elephants was chosen as our Book Club selection for this month and I was quite happy about it as it was a book I had always been intrigued by but had never really been tempted to pick up. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to our Book Club discussion this month so this review will have to be based purely on my thoughts and reactions.

Water For Elephants is set in the USA in the era of the Great Depression in the 1930's. The main character, Jacob Jankowski, is a young man about to sit the final exams for his veterinary studies when he is called home by the sudden and traumatic death of his parents. Jacob's father was the local town vet and Jacob was expecting to slip right into his practice as soon as he had passed his exams - after his sudden death Jacob learns that his father's business was broke and so much money is now owed to the bank that Jacob does not even have a house to live in anymore. It is after this discovery that Jacob literally runs away to the circus. Not that this is his intention - he simply runs away from the life that is no longer waiting to him onto a moving train carriage which turns out to belong to the Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show On Earth.

The book alternates between the stories of the young Jacob as he makes his way as an animal carer in the circus and an elderly Jacob many years later - now living in an aged care facility and reflecting on what he saw as the greatest time of his life.

The book has plenty of drama and action - a lot of loss and sadness (the scenes where animal cruelty is displayed were actually the most distressing for me even though human beings were also treated extremely badly in many cases).

I found the elderly Jacob more interesting and engaging than the young man - I found myself being disappointed when the book turned away from these sections and I think I would have enjoyed it more if the whole story was told as a memory rather than being told from the present tense. That being said, I did enjoy this book - mainly because it was something different in terms of subject matter to what I normally would read.

17 comments:

Nadia said...

Great post! I have this one on my book shelf and have been wondering when to read it - after your post, I'm thinking sometime this fall. It sounds like an interesting story and from what you wrote it does seem like it would have made more sense to write it all as a reflection on Jacob's past. Perhaps some tighter editing would have helped with that. All in all, sounds like it'll be a good read. Cheers!

savidgereads said...

Well I love anything that is set in the 1930's as a general rule and don't think as yet I have come across a book about the circus in that period. I beleive I have this somewhere in the TBR and this review has really really made me want to read it so thanks Karen!

farmlanebooks said...

I loved this book! I thought all sections were equally good. I can't imagine the younger Jacob section not being in the present tense - I thought it added to the atmosphere and my engagement in the story. It was great to learn about life in the circus and I thought the ending was very good. Sorry to hear you didn;'t get to discuss it.

Connie said...

I feel the same way to you about the young Jacob versus the old Jacob: I wish we'd gotten more of the latter.

Great review!!

Hannah Stoneham said...

I love the front cover!

Iliana said...

Aren't they making a movie of this book? I need to hurry up and read the book! Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I have it on my shelf somewhere but just need to find time.

JoAnn said...

My book group selected this a couple of years ago - great motivation to finally pick up the book. I ended up listening, and it was one of my favorite audios ever. There were two narrators - old Jacob and young Jacob - both were outstanding!

Marg said...

I really enjoyed this book. I found it quite sad in particular in relation to the treatment that he received as an old man.

They are making a movie of it, which is going to star Robert Pattinson and Reece Witherspoon.

JaneGS said...

Interesting that you liked the old Jacob's story more than the young Jacob's story because I had the reserve experience, although ultimately I think the novel structure worked well for me, and I was impressed with how well Gruen kept the suspense and mystery going.

I really enjoyed this book--wouldn't have read it if so many people whose opinion I value hadn't encouraged me, but glad I did.

皇雅婷豪 said...

一個人的價值,應該看他貢獻了什麼,而不是他取得了什麼..................................................

Karen said...

Hi Nadia - This was a really interesting read - and a quick one too so I am sure you would finish it in no time.

Hi Simon - I love the time period that this book was set in too - the author obviously did a lot of research into the circus world of that time which definitely added to the authenticity of the book.

Hi Jackie - I can see what you mean about the present tense adding to the atmosphere of the book as a whole - I think I must be more of a memory/reflective person!!

Hi Connie - It's interesting to hear that you felt a similar way to me. I wonder if the author struggled at all with how to write the characters or the tense??

Hi Hannah - it is gorgeous isn't it? It's an actual photo taken from a circus of the 1930's.

Hi Iliana - it sounds like Marg has the scoop on the movie!

Hi JoAnn - it sounds like this one is a popular book club choice?

Hi Marg - It was very sad wasn't it? So indicative of how we still treat our elderly people I think though. I can't see the movie working all that well with those actors!!

Hi Jane - that's interesting - it sounds like a few of us are divided on how we liked it!

Jo said...

I enjoyed this, but I think I liked the sections with young Jacob best. I do think it needed both narrations to make it work though.

Tamara said...

I'm with Hannah, Great cover! If these comments are anything to go by, this might be one I could enjoy... is it available for loan?

Karen said...

Hi Jo - It seems like people are divided on this one!

Hi T - Yep - this book is from my personal library so you are more than welcome to borrow at any time.

Eesti said...

I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!! I thought this book was amazing and I really got into it. The characters are charming and the detail used to describe sights and smells made me feel like I was really there. It makes me kind of want to see the movie but by the trailer i can tell it wont be nearly as good as the book. Below is a long summary which contains many spoilers, I highly encourage you to read the book and not my summary if you plan to read it. :)

Eesti said...

I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!! I thought this book was amazing and I really got into it. The characters are charming and the detail used to describe sights and smells made me feel like I was really there. It makes me kind of want to see the movie but by the trailer i can tell it wont be nearly as good as the book. Below is a long summary which contains many spoilers, I highly encourage you to read the book and not my summary if you plan to read it. :)

Cath Brookes said...

A ninety--or is it ninety-three?--year-old man recalls his days as a circus veterinarian. Murder, Romance, Intrigue and all the stuff of Trains, Depression and Prohibition give this novel sizzle. Eleven and a half hours on ten CD's and worth every second of it. Don't miss this one.
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