Monday, May 9, 2011


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Canada; 1st Trade edition (Mar 29 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006391559

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few years, and like I said before, I thought it was one of those books where the animals talk and that they are the main characters.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I have to be in a certain frame of mind to read a book like that and suffice it to say, it never happened.  Once I started to see trailers of the movie, though, I started to hear phrases like, "love story" and words like "romantic" and thought, "Huh?"  My husband read it a couple of years back and he liked it so I picked it up and am I ever glad I did!  

First of all Sara Gruen is Canadian (well, technically a dual US/Canadian) , WOOT!  Love it.  Secondly she is a mom that as dreamed of being a writer her whole life and her finally her husband said to her, "Let's take a year or two of you being at home and you write a book."  How awesome is that?    And apparently this book also had its start in the NanoWrimo competition, although I cannot find any other source that verifies that other than the Wrimo.  The NanoWrimo is a fun competition for no money where people attempt to write a novel in 30 days.  On their website they say that Sara's novel was one.  Pretty cool, if it's true!

Okay, so the first few pages sucked me in when I realized that it was not animals talking, but people and the beginning was a bit mysterious with the menagerie of animals going crazy and a window into the world of the circus circa 1920's.  I love historical fiction, and there were actual pictures from circus archives at the beginning of each chapter, what a nice touch!  I have to admit I did picture Robert Pattison as the young Jacob, which didn't bother me too much, and I couldn't remember who was playing the lead in the movie which is just as well as I'm not the biggest fan of Reese Witherspoon... you know, the chin that never stops growing.  ANYway.  

The book is anchored in present day with my favourite and most developed character, in my opinion, the "92 or 93" year old Jacob in a nursing home.  He was just the right amount of cranky, sad, melancholy and spitfire to make me fall in love with him.  I loved seeing the world through his eyes, and I am always blown away when authors can take opposite sex characters and completely nail them, not to mention characters that are about 60 years older than them!  I loved him, and there were several scenes in the book that were so beautifully heartbreaking, and took place just with him and his own reflection.  Makes me realize what getting old really means. 

Sara manages to seamlessly time travel between old Jacob in the seniors home and young Jacob trying to make sense of his life as he stumbles upon a circus with all of its animals, freaks, and tyrant of an owner Uncle Al, and his manager August who just happens to be crazy and also happens to be married to gorgeous Marlena who does the Spirit act with the horses in her sequenced little dresses.  

As per usual I do not want to give anything away, so I will not do a summary, it is easy to find that anywhere on the web.  But I will give you my thoughts in general about this book. 

It is fascinating, if you like history being fleshed out in a realistic way.  It is beautiful, you can imagine the clothing of the era, the decadence of the state car on the train.  It is gritty, with the roustabouts and their cramped quarters on the train.  It is swoony, when unrequited live rears its lovely head.  It is heart breaking, when we meet Rosie the elephant and fall in love with her as so many before her had.  There is adventure and tension. And pairing the narrative in the present day with old Jacob being agitated by another old gentleman at the home telling everyone he used to bring water for the elephants, we are drawn in by curiosity just as to why old Jacob is so completely fired up about this man and his claims. 

The only criticism I have of the book is that there are a couple of characters, one in particular, that developed in an odd fashion and it annoyed me throughout the novel.  Kinko/Walter is the dwarf who is forced to share his already cramped train car with Jacob and I loved his grumpy, bitter, vibe and how he just was so irritated with Jacob's very presence.  He had this adorable little dog named Queenie, who you could just see was his only true friend in the world.  Well, somehow as the story progressed, and rather quickly I might add, Walter become really really "nice".  Like freakishly nice, in a weird way that even most men today wouldn't be.  All of the sudden he was all nurturing and comforting to Jacob, and it just didnt' make any sense.  His character just disappeared, and that goes with Grady another worker who was just "nice" in a boring way, and except for the name they came across in an identical way with no real voice of their own.  Kinko was cool, at first, an unusual guy who had a very unique "voice", if you know what I mean.  I just don't understand what happened there.  

Otherwise a very fast lovely read, and once I see the movie I'll come back on there and do a bit of a Book to Movie post, I am dying to see how they do it!

Sara has a new book out called Ape House which I would love to read.  And as is my way, I purposefully avoid too much information about a book I want to read, but it's something about great apes communicating through sign language?  I think the story revolves around a researcher on the subject?  Not sure, but I have the sample downloaded on my Kindle and can't wait to read it.  

But back to Water?  
RATING:  4.5/5

For more on Sara and her works click here. 

9 Blabs:

Anonymous said...

I liked Water for Elephants as well (my thoughts: I thought it was a a stan­dard "boy meets girl" story it does have a charm­ing set­ting, but somehow it simply "works".

Missy B. said...

Awesome review, Lisa! I, too, was confused by Kinko/Walter's disappearance. He became a favorite character of mine. I am not sure if I want to see the movie now or not. I might just be content with my memories of the beautiful novel....

Lisa said...

Hey there, Man of la Book! Great review, and I loved the trailer you posted!

Missy: I know, even though Walter was still around, his "character" just no longer was there. It was bizarre. I want to see the movie, but the trailer has me wondering, it looks as if they blended the Uncle Al character and the August character, has anyone seen the movie? Is that what they did?

Shirley said...

I am looking forward to reading this book so much!! Glad to you liked it!

Amanda said...

I really enjoyed this book too. I read it a few months before I started my book blog so I don't remember it all that well. I retain memories of the books I read better when I review them for some reason. I'll need to re-read this and then her newer one. Love your review!

TheBookGirl said...

I never got around to reading this, and now that the movie is here, which I want to see, I don't know whether I should read the book first!

Lisa said...

My parents just saw the movie and loved it; said it was very faithful to the book. It's interesting to me how much you enjoyed old Jacob; there was my least favorite part of the book. One of my friends refused to read the book because of the cruelty to animals but I thought there was at least as much cruelty to humans.

Bonnie said...

This is also one of those books that has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while but I just haven't gotten to it. After reading your review though, I think I'm going to pick it up soon!

Addicted to Paleo said...

Love your review! This book is in my wishlist on Amazon... as soon as I get better caught up on my reviews for others- this one is my next book to buy!

Thanks for stopping by my blog at the hop! Hope to come back here often!


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