Thursday, March 15

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Seventy years ago, Jacob Jankowski jumped a train and joined a circus, with more in store for him than he could ever have imagined.

In the last leg of his life, Jacob remembers the days of prohibition, when he was a veterinarian for The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

There he met two of the most spectacular woman in his life: Marlena, wife of August, the unhinged animal trainer and Rosie, the elephant.

Water for Elephants was a book I had seen on bookstore shelves and vaguely knew the title of but nothing more. When it was announced to be adapted into a film I bought the book, set on reading it before I saw it on screen. That was not to be. Chance found me on a plane where it was showing and I wasn’t strong enough to ignore it.

What I did not know about Water for Elephants was that it was written during NaNoWriMo. Something I was soon informed of by my fellow participants. I have not to my knowledge ever read a book that was written during NaNoWriMo, so naturally I was intrigued. I had to read it.

Read it I did not. Instead, I listened to it on audio book, read by David LeDoux (young Jacob) and John Randolph (old Jacob) – something I did not regret doing in the least.

Water for Elephants was a book I was afraid was going to be overrated. Instead, it proved to be the best book I’ve come across in ’12 so far. I was up until ridiculous hours of the morning to finish it and I’m keen to listen to it again and again.

The characters in the story are what drive it. While I was ever so fascinated by the world of the circus, without a protagonist like Jacob it would have fallen flat. Nothing that happened to him was easy or smooth. Everything wriggled with tension and the conflict he faced with other characters and – most powerfully – himself, was fascinating.

Am I amiss to say that I liked the character of August? Not that I sympathised with him or found him “likable” but that I was captivated by his actions and mannerisms. I didn’t find him relatable but I did find him remarkable. Each character in the story seems to be such a natural element and stand out without seeming like an obvious fabrication. It felt as though I was gaining a secret insight into Jacob’s life. One he had kept to himself for decades.

In fact, while I listened to the book, I did read the author's note and interview included at the end of my paperback. There, I discovered that Sara Gruen had done an impeccable amount of research (unsurprising) and drawn a fair few incidents which occur in the book from real occurrences.

While I did enjoy the film adaptation of Water for Elephants – and still do – it wasn’t prominent with me when I was focused on the novel. I know that a lot of the time when people see film adaptations first the way characters and scenes were portrayed stick with them...but everything in the book felt stark and fresh to me. The story was written in such an excellent and powerful way that I could imagine nothing but the characters and the plot as they were written by Sara Gruen.

Water for Elephants is a novel I’d be quick to recommend to anyone, whether in paperback or on audio. Stunning.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Algonquin Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

1 comment:

Rachelia (Bookish Comforts) said...

I haven't read this book yet because I was also afraid it was overrated. But after reading your review I really think I should give it a chance. I've been listening to audiobooks while I take the bus to school and I know my libary has it so I should really give it a chance. I'm glad it didn't disappoint. Great review!