Saturday, February 26, 2011

Just Finished: "Water for Elephants"

Oh my goodness. This book was amazing! I've been hearing for years that this novel was really great, as it was released way back in May 2006. When I was working at the bookstore, I tended to hear lots of reviews and recommendations, and Water for Elephants was no exception. For some reason I never got around to picking it up and I am so glad that I finally did!

Here's a synopsis from Chapters:

Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train and inadvertently runs away with the circus. So begins Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen's darkly beautiful tale about the characters who inhabit the less-than-greatest show on earth.
Jacob finds a place tending the circus animals, including a seemingly untrainable elephant named Rosie. He also comes to know Marlena, the star of the equestrian act and wife of August, a charismatic but cruel animal trainer. Caught between his love for Marlena and his need to belong in the crazy family of travelling performers, Jacob is freed only by a murderous secret that will bring the big top down.
This was one of those novels that you just cannot put down, and I haven't read a book like that since The Forgotten Garden this past summer. There was just one little thing that I didn't love (and I say didn't love because it wasn't that I didn't like it, it just wasn't my thing) and that was that the story goes back and forth from the present to the past. Jacob isn't necessarily telling his story, but learning about his life in the circus is interspersed with present day when he is ninety three and in a nursing home. I think the reason I wasn't into this was that it ended the "action" part of the novel. One page I'm learning about how they're trying to train Rosie the elephant, and the next I'm stalled in the nursing home with Jacob waiting for his family to arrive. It's not that it was boring - Gruen wonderfully captured the scared feeling that I'm sure many elderly people feel when they know that their mental and physical capabilities are slipping - it was that I wanted to get back to the circus! Part of that feeling of needing to get back to the action was because, I think, that there was a prologue and I desperately wanted to find out how the circus tragedy was set in motion.

One of the unfortunate things about reading this book now, is that I knew who the actors are who are in the upcoming adaptation. I'm one of those people who must read the book before seeing the movie, so I guess that's another reason I finally got around to reading this book. I had known the movie was coming for a long while, and knew right away who the actors were going to be. I like being able to imagine the characters myself, so it was too bad that I couldn't do that with the main characters for this novel (which is why, when I read The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks, that I didn't look online to see who will be in the upcoming adaptation). While I couldn't picture Reese Witherspoon as easily as the magnificent Marlena, I do think she'll do a fantastic job. On the other hand, I think they picked a great actor in Robert Pattinson to play the young Jacob. I know what you anti-Twilight people are thinking, but I choose to ignore all the naysayers (that's right, I said naysayers, what of it?). He has just the right moodiness and brains to pull off the character. Hopefully I won't be disappointed. By the way, the movie is set to be released on April 22.

I enjoyed that Gruen took real life anecdotes from the traveling train circuses from years past. She mentions this in the author's notes and I'm really glad she did. Some of the things were really interesting and neat, but others were sad (such as the fact that elephant execution was common among circus elephants that misbehaved). Either way, I liked that Gruen made sure that the historical part of this novel had credibility.

Overall, this was a fantastic novel. Highly recommended to anyone who likes a good read, or really enjoys the circus. Anyone else read this book? What did you think?

Stay tuned for an Oscar related post - I'm hosting a party tomorrow night and can't wait to tell you all about it. It's going to be so much fun! :)


  1. I'll have to read it then! I wasn't so sure about it, but I will give it a shot.

  2. Never in my eighteen years of reading have I come across a book that entertained me this much, except for Harry Potter. This book truly took me away to a new world and turned out to be quite a fast read once i got into it. I think everyone should read this book because this world of Circus Folk has never been written about like this.


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