Sarah Gruen – Water for Elephants

  Author: Sarah Gruen
Title:Water for Elephants
 Published: May 2006

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 331 pages
Genre: ‘Historical’ fiction
Why I picked it up: Heard a lot about it, who doesn’t like a book about a circus?
Rating: 3 stars
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***SPOILERS THROUGHOUT***

Surprisingly, this book was exactly what I expected. I might have had slightly higher wishes, as I had wished it would be better than expected, but it turned out to be exactly what I was prepared.

The characters were pretty blah. What was the appeal of Marlena?? She was dull, dull, dull, aside from her shiny sequins (I guess that was her appeal). Jacob was kind of sweet, but in an almost too-naive way. August was perhaps the most ‘colourful’ but any character with schizophrenia is going to turn out that way. Oops, was that a spoiler? That leads to my other point…the story was terribly predictable. Nothing surprised me. Was that point about August being a paranoid schizophrenic supposed to be a twist? It was plain to me that he was going to be ‘revealed’ to have some sort of mental instability, that he wasn’t just ‘evil’. I am a little concerned about how that disease is portrayed. I am very unfamiliar with it, as most people are, my only contact being through fictional entertainment such as this book, and I wonder how accurate, if it all, August’s infliction was.  Back to story predictability. That twist at the end – ha! Not a twist for me. I just assumed I had read the prologue wrong and missed where Rosie was implied as the ‘murderer’, but when I went back and read it, I realized I hadn’t, that the prologue hadn’t actually said who killed August. It didn’t surprise me or seem quite as  horrible as Jacob made it out to be, it seemed logical that Rosie would that.

All the sex/sexual scenes and events seemed kind of out of place for me. They didn’t really add anything to the story, just made it slightly more graphic and ‘adult’. I suppose they were intended to illustrate Jacob’s ‘growing up’, but did we really need to see Jacob walk in on Kinko masturbating? Haha…no, it wasn’t even funny. I dunno, it all seemed a little pointless.

I wasn’t expecting the framing of the old man looking back on life, but I liked it. It added an extra dimension to a rather dimensionless story. I found elder Jacob’s position quite sad, really, who wouldn’t? I noticed some reviews couldn’t reconcile young Jacob with old Jacob, but I found the differences quite understandable and realistic. It was heartbreaking to read the perspective of a man who realizes he’s going to die any time and that his mind is moving on. Despite the unbelievable ending, it was what any reader would have wished for Jacob, and since I wasn’t expecting great literary things from this book, I’ll buy it. It was sweet, if incredulous.

Despite all that, I devoured this book. I read it in two sittings (not counting the times when I read half a dozen pages between class or while waiting for the bus), one of those sittings being late into the night after work – I haven’t done that for so long! (I think I mostly wanted a break from writing papers and studying for exams.) I knew pretty well what would happen next but I still wanted to see it unfold. I still wanted to read about the circus, even though its depiction was not nearly as colourful or imaginative as the last circus I read about in The Night Circus (granted, that book had a lot of fantasy, but such lovely descriptive prose could have easily been translated and adapted to a ‘normal’ circus, such as this one in Water for Elephants). Really, the draw for me was the circus drama even though it wasn’t anything special or daring or different. So I guess that’s a point for this book. Even though it was so-so, it managed to draw me in.

 I am kind of interested in seeing the movie. I remember being intrigued when I first saw the trailer, and thinking “Wow, is that  Pattinson?! I always knew he could be attractive.” (;P) I suspect he might be good for that role, and that it would be a decently entertaining movie, probably on the same level as the book but in it’s own way (I wouldn’t expect any improved chemistry between the leads, I just want to see a circus come to life…could be a decent way to tune out for a couple of hours). Final impression: An alright book if you’re looking for some very light, unspectacular reading.