Posts Tagged ‘Sara Gruen’

Sorry, panto rehearsals ran massively over yesterday and I was practically asleep by the time I got home – and it’s 11pm and I just got home from today’s run through so I was nearly another day late!

Book 9 – Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This book flicks back and forth between the modern day and Depression-Era USA, telling the story of Jacob Jankowski as flashbacks from the man now in his 90’s.

In his last weeks at Cornell University, Jacob’s parents are killed in an accident. It becomes clear that they have left nothing for Jacob; their house is owned by the bank, and Jacob is left penniless and without access to the family veterinary practise he has trained to join.

Jacob’s loss is too much for him to process and he walks out of the university and jumps a train. This happens to be a circus train and his life changes irrevocably as a result.

Jacob falls in love – with a married woman, a menagerie and an elephant called Rosie. As times get hard for the circus, the difference in experience of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ becomes ever clearer. Jacob brings a sense of right and wrong into a world that doesn’t follow the rules he knows, and he grows to loathe the very people he relies on to stay on the train. Meanwhile loyalties and friendships are tested and it becomes dangerous to be known as Jacob’s friend.

As Jacob struggles to accept the fate of his friends, it is others who take out their revenge on the circus and release him from his chains.

Reading that, the book was quite exciting – it certainly covered a lot of intrigue and action. But I can’t say I enjoyed it. It was well-written, full of rich detail and very well researched, but the tone of it was unpleasant. The constancy of the violence and threat which underpinned the story was oppressive. The life-long love story wasn’t romantic (for me); it was obsessive and dangerous on his part, and on hers it seemed very submissive.  Sadly, I don’t know what about her made him so ready to risk everything.

There were also elements where you thought something else awful had happened, only for it to be a red herring; with all the awfulness I’d already waded through I didn’t really want any more.

I guess the key point is that I didn’t like the nature of the story being told.  That is very personal and not a reflection on the writing – there are books I’ve hated written by people who also wrote books I love, so it wouldn’t put me off reading more of Gruen’s work.  This one just wasn’t for me.

I have to say though, that the style of writing must have been very engaging as I got through it, and quite quickly at that!

One final thought on this book – I liked the ending, and it did put a little spin on the tale that Jacob told.

I’d be really interested to know whether any of you felt similarly, as I know this book had a huge success at least partly as a result of word-of-mouth praise.

Onward and upward, as they say – I’ll look for another cheery one next!

Happy reading,




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