Saturday, December 17, 2011

Water for Elephants

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants – Sarah Gruen
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = 7.5 out of 10
Content = R (Adult Content, Violence, Sexual Contact, Sexual Tension, Language, Elephants)

Why: We’ve (Evan) been hearing the hype and yet somehow managed to push Water for Elephants off until just last month.  Not a bad read, but let’s just say we’re not doing cartwheels.  That’s not to say that we couldn’t execute the maneuver with breathtaking precision if we were so inclined... We’re just say’in.

Presented through a series of flashbacks by a cantankerous nursing home patient, the story begins as Jacob Jankowski is confronted with the death of his parents.  Hastily, he drops out of school and flees to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  After a fair amount of drama, Jacob is offered a position as vet with the traveling circus.  What follows is, well... a circus – especially when Rosie shuffles into town...

Honestly, we could go either way on this novel.  For some reason we are drawn to the enchantment of the circus, so the setting was interesting enough to keep our attention.  We thought the novel captured the spirit of the traveling circus and pulled the curtain on some of the more sleazy aspects of the business.  The treatment of the animals was at times appalling as was the practice of chucking circus workers from moving trains.

In many ways, the characters were almost as entertaining as the circus.  Jacob was complex and real.  The lovely Marlena was just as intriguing and provocative in real life as she was in her animal act.  The head animal trainer was pretty much a complete jerk-bag throughout.  Rosie the Elephant was incredibly enduring and a formidable animal character.  And the bearded lady... yeesh.     

So why didn’t we love this book? We’re not sure.  It just felt like something was missing.  Maybe there was too much bitterness and anger in the narrator or maybe the relationship between Jacob and Marlena could have been developed more or maybe a high flying monkey act should have been incorporated into the performance.  Whatever the case Water for Elephants was a good book, but not great, and definitely not in our top 10 for 2011 (which will be announced with much hoopla in the next week(s)).        

Finally, in order to hastily complete our commitment in the Books to Movie Challenge, the following paragraph will be dedicated to the movie version of Water for Elephants.  Our thoughts about the movie are eerily similar to the book.  The movie did a really good job of capturing people’s fascination with the traveling circus.  We longed to be standing right next to all the townspeople when the tents were being set up.  In general the movie stayed true to the book, although we thought the absence of Uncle Al, who was the circus owner in the book, was a big miss.  The big winner (no pun intended) in both the book, and the movie, was Rosie.  Can we please have a ginormous protective and lovable elephant for Christmas?  You can keep the hippopotamus!


  1. I liked this one, too--not completely enamoured by it but very enjoyable. I also thought the relationship between Jacob & Marlena could have been more developed. I haven't seen the movie yet, though my mom is anxious to see Robert Pattinson is something other than Twilight :D

  2. I liked Water For Elephants but didn't love it too- I just think it wasn't really well written, which stopped me from loving it. But I still liked it! Especially the bits with old man Jacob :)

  3. I read this book cover-to-cover just yesterday! While it was good enough to keep me going all day, there were definitely some parts I didn't love, namely: too many unnecessary sexual details, and a seemingly shallow relationship between Jacob and Marlena that suddenly and surprisingly jumped to deep love. However, I have to say that the ending was pleasantly surprising in several ways, and at one point, I was flipping back and forth in awe between the chapter I was on and the prologue (if you've read the book, you know what I mean). Kudos to Gruen for writing redemption into the story. I'm now looking forward to viewing the movie adaptation this week.

  4. Teacher/learner,
    Right now we're (Evan) very content having only seen Rob in Goblet of Fire and Water for Elephants... He didn't sparkle in Water for Elephants,but his performance was good...

    I will admit the end fate of old man Jacob was pretty satisfying. Otherwise....

    Lisa Joy,
    Definatley needed more development between Jacob and Marlana and yes to the ending. Hope you enjoy the movie!

  5. Ok, Felt the exact same way! The book was just a bit of a miss for me. Not sure if it was because I was expecting more from it (after everyone sang its praise for years) Or if it really was missing *something*

    Still a good read. But it always feels like when there are misses like this that I like the book less than when I simply do a book that was just OK (no previous expectations). I don't push this book much...

  6. I haven't read this book yet but all of my friends have begged me to. I'm not sure why I haven't read it yet. Maybe it was the way the book was summarized - I felt like a "bad" ending was going to happen somehow. I tend to shy away from books that might be me really sad at the end...which might be detrimental to some books, but I know me well enough to not give in! Great review. Looking forward to your list.