I just finished Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Yes, the book. Not the movie. I read the book. Sheesh. I thought the book sounded interesting so I read a few reviews and didn't like them so I opted out of reading it. Then when I saw the movie was coming out I figured I needed to hurry up and read it so that I could watch the movie. So I did.
I mostly like what the NewYorkTimes review says, although I did not read this particular review before reading the book. I read Amazon's reviews and that's where I got my skepticism from. As of this writing there are 133 one-star reviews and 2,079 five-star reviews. Yes, two-thousand is a big number but 133 is also a pretty big number and it's big enough to make me think twice about reading a book. Elizabeth Judd of the NYTimes says this: "Gruen's prose is merely serviceable, and she hurtles through cataclysmic events, overstuffing her whiplash narrative with drama (there's an animal stampede, two murders and countless fights). She also asserts a grand passion between Jacob and Marlena that's never convincingly demonstrated." And I think that pretty much sums it up.
I am happy that I read the book. I ended up enjoying it and I really loved the ending. But it is nowhere near the best book I've ever read. I was disturbed that I didn't really feel the romantic feelings between Jacob and Marlena. I enjoyed more the relationship between Jacob and Walter the clown. I could feel the emotions in that relationship more than the supposed romantic one.
I would not rate it a 1 and I would not rate it a 5. I'd say it's about a 3 or a 3.5 mostly because I enjoyed the story overall. At the end of the book there is an interview with Gruen. I always enjoy reading the interviews with authors after reading a book. She apparently did a lot of research and fell in love with the circus world. I have to admit it's kindof a romantic idea. She also mentions two female elephants that she believes deserve to be remembered. She fashioned Rosie, the elephant in the book, on these two real elephants. So of course I had to do my own bit of research on them. . . .
TOPSY THE ELEPHANT - Topsy killed her handler after he fed her a lit cigarette. It was her third strike and was therefor slated for execution. They were going to hang her publicly but the public thought that was cruel and unusual. So Topsy's owners contacted Thomas Edison and he executed her with electric current to help prove a point he'd been trying to get across. You can also Google Topsy the elephant if you'd like to know more.
OLD MOM the ELEPHANT - Old Mom understood German but did not respond to English. She was purchased from circus legend & father of the modern zoo Carl Hagenbeck who claimed her to be the smartest elephant that ever lived. However the purchasers did not realize she only understood German; they couldn't get her to do anything but shuffle around. They finally retrained her to respond to English and she went on the a dazzling career.
Here's a preview of the movie, which I have not seen yet but I heard it was pretty good.
ps... I love the cover of the book. very cool. You gotta pick a good cover.
If you decide to read it I doubt you will be disappointed if you do not expect absolutely amazing things.