Monday, April 25, 2011

Remarks on Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I heard that this book has been made into a movie.  I wasn't too impressed with the book, so I wonder what it will be like in a movie.  Here are some of my reactions to the book:

Pluses: This novel is fairly well constructed and well-written (with the exception of a few too many "outrageously long eyelashes" describing the elephant) and the main characters adequately drawn. The pace and the use of flashbacks work. The sensitivity between nursing home resident Jacob and favorite nurse Rosemary is beautifully portrayed, and Jacob's observations in the nursing home seem right on target. 

Minuses: (1) Not enough solid understanding of the psyche of the lead character (Jacob) as an almost-veterinarian (moreover, he is also son of a veterinarian). There were passages where his feelings for and about animals were almost entirely ignored. In general, there would have been more creativity if the author had explored and deepened the relationship of the vet with the animals. I was expecting Jacob to develop a very deep understanding of at least the elephant, leading to a very strong bond, etc. He goes through the motions, but I never believe he really understands the elephant, and this is one of the most important parts of the story.  I suspect the author is not an animal lover.

(2) Conversely, too much attention is given the run-of-the-mill sexual awakening and human love story of the main character. I don't mind that it's part of the novel, but I was expecting a deep, enchanting bond between human and animals, which would set the novel apart from the ho-hum. For me, this is a Romance Novel, and should be advertised as such.  

(3) Information and atmosphere of circus life is too thin and barely holds the story up.  There could have been richer texture by beefing up the details about circus life. 

Summary: If you happen to have read Waller's -The Bridges of Madison County-(another book that caused a big stir, even though it was basically a romance novel, and not a great one), as well as a perfect gem of a book called -Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe- (Fannie Flagg's masterpiece that was almost as good on film) and if you've read Berger's -Little Big Man- one of the most creative uses of the flashbacks of an very aged man (not so good on film)...put these 3 together and you can imagine what -Water for Elephants- is like. 

Better yet, if you haven't read Fried Green Tomatoes or Little Big Man, GO READ THOSE INSTEAD of Water for Elephants. And if you're interested in the circus, I recommend Bruce Feiler's -Under the Big Top-.

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