Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lori's Livres--Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Book Title/Author
: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Publisher/Year Published: Algonquin Books, 2006
How I got a hold of this book: I bought it at Borders.
Why I read this book: I avoided this book for a couple of years because I've been so disappointed by several books that have received a lot of hype. But the one day I saw that Reese Witherspoon was starring in the film adaptation, so I bought the book.
Rating: 5 stars--Once I actually started reading the book, I loved the concept of running away and joining the circus. I loved seeing the development of the protagonist's relationship with other members of the circus company. And I loved the development of his character as an old man, which intersperses the chapters of him in his 20s. I will definitely read this again and it might even become a favorite.

The scene starts with a scene of mayhem as the menagerie has been set loose while a circus is underway. Our narrator looks across the tent, searching for "her." Soon after he sees "her," "she" kills the bad man with a stake to the head. So begins the prologue of this tale. From there, the reader goes into the mind of a 93-year-old man unhappily living in an assisted living home. As a young man living during the Great Depression, his life fell apart, he dropped out of vet school, and he joined a circus.

As a person who has often joked about running away and joining the circus (I'd be the daring young woman on the flying trapeze) I was hooked by this point.

In the Q&A with the author at the back of my edition, I read that Gruen did a lot of research in writing this novel. I think that this dedication shows in her prose. She created convincing and dynamic characters. Even her stereotypical characters, such as the evil man in charge of the circus, had a third dimension that made them real and not just flat. It would have been so easy for Gruen to fall into the trap of giving the reader the static kind of freaks and clowns normally expected in the circus. Gruen introduces the reader into the company and makes them feel privy to the behind the scenes interactions among a large and disparate group of people.

Another thing that Gruen does really well is write from a male perspective. As someone who has taken creative writing courses, I know how challenging it is to create a convincing narrator of the opposite sex. To be able to take the male narrator from his 20s to his 90s and still be convincing shows Gruen's story-telling capabilities. The depth of Jacob in his 90s made me think a lot about my grandparents and growing older. I loved Jacob's fire and determination to take care of himself as an old man; I hope my grandparents are like that when they're his age. Heck, I hope I'm like that when I'm his age.

Though the love story was pretty evident from the get-go, I recommend this book to people of all ages (my grandma has it right now) because of the amazing story about working on a circus during the Depression and the belief that just because you get older, it doesn't mean you're less capable.


  1. I'm so glad that you ended up loving this!

    I agree with you on how convincing she was writing from a male perspective! I always find it intriguing when the opposite sex is able to do that so well.

    I also was impressed by the depth of this novel. She did her research well and I felt like I learned alot. It was one of those historical novels that I felt like it made me interested in that subject and time period.

    I can't wait to see this movie!! :)

  2. It can really be surprising how well one sex can write from the perspective from another... right now I'm listening to A Yellow Raft in Blue Water and Michael Dorris does a wonderful job at writing in the female perspective.

    I liked this book too, though I don't think I'd have given it five stars--more likely four. It was really gritty; not the type of book I usually love. But it was still very good! Let's hope they don't ruin the movie. I've heard Robert Pattinson will be Jacob...

  3. I'm definitely looking forward to the movie as well, even though I think R Pattz won't be able to convey the depth of emotion that Jacob exhibited throughout the novel.

  4. I'm in agreement. I hope he proves us wrong though!

  5. Great review! I've heard so many good things about this book, I really don't know why I've been avoiding it for so long!

  6. I just downloaded this book on my nook and I haven't gotten to it yet. I think I avoided it for the same reason, the hype. It's crazy how that can sometimes end up hurting a book. Your review has me itching to read it though!

  7. I just got this book from my mum as a gift, and was probably going to leave it for a while. But you've made me want to read it. Now!

  8. I've been thinking of picking this up for a while now, I may have to get this on my next trip to the bookstore.

  9. wait. wait.

    The statement that caused me great joy: "This is being made into a movie"

    The statement that caused me great sadness: "RPattz as Jacob" Woe.

    Regarding the book though, I agree with your review. If I hadn't have seen the author's name, I would have thought she was male. This was a don't let go read for me.

    If I was in the circus, I would be the girl with the elephants. I really like elephants, not just because of this book either... lol Ok long comment is long...

  10. Haha Julia! Your comment made me laugh!

    I'm with you. I'd like to be in a cute costume on top of the giant elephant! They are amazing animals. I think also the movie Dumbo made me particularly fond of elephants. lol

  11. OMG! The sadness I previously felt in the last post I made has disappeared knowing that Christoph Waltz is going to play August!! Hell yeah!

  12. I'm sorry I had to ruin everyone's day by telling y'all that RPattz is in the movie. Just focus on the good...


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