Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book Review: Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen -- ★

Don't waste your time reading Water for Elephants. Seriously. This book is the most far-fetched, unorganized and just plain silly book I have read in quite some time. I really wanted to like it, but the whole book just began unraveling. I was more than two-thirds through the book when my mom asked me what it was about and I opened my mouth and no words came out. I couldn't really verbalize what is was about because nothing was really happening.


If you plan on reading it still, stop here because I have no option but to go into detail about its many faults.

The author included a prologue (for what purpose, I am unsure) that drew the reader in, making her think that this book was filled with action and suspense. But when you finish the book, you realize the prologue served absolutely no role and makes you think that an editor somewhere pulled out the most exciting part of the book and threw it in a prologue to generate interest and book sales. Seriously, this is the most action this book sees and it doesn't come to the very end. And it comes in a way that is so unrealistic and absurd that you think the author must have been under a deadline and had to wrap things up quickly.

The book story is framed with the recollections of a very old man, in his nineties and chapter one actually begins with him speaking about his age and how once you hit ninety you can't exactly recall your age. (Okay, I feel like that in my thirties, but whatever.)

So the story is divided between his life now in a nursing home and his recollections from his early twenties when he joins a circus when his parents die in a car crash (I kid you not; I can't make this stuff up.)

He somehow becomes the circus veterinarian in a period of a night and makes friends with the stars of the show (equestrian director and female star). In between this, there are weird sexually explicit and random scenes that don't quite fit within the book (again, makes you think an editor had a heavy hand in the book) and then the circus acquires an elephant (I won't bore you with the details).

It turns out the equestrian director is crazy and beats the elephant because the elephant does not move on command. And it "pains" the narrator so much that he just sits on his rear end doing nothing to help the elephant as he gets beat over and over. (Huh? I don't get it. Why make such a mundane character? Who wants to read about a wimp main character who can't even stand up for an elephant who is physically abused? Weird.)

Meanwhile, some strange relationship is growing between the main character and the female star of the show. The main character unlocks the mystery as to why the elephant won't move (only speaks Polish) and then the equestrian director has a major freak out and the female star leaves him and professes her undying love for the main character. But now they are being "hunted" by the ringmaster and need a quick out of the circus and wouldn't you know there's a stampede in the circus and everyone dies but the two main characters. SO STUPID.

In between all of this complete chaos, the main character is telling us his woes about nursing home life and how his kids don't care about him and how he thinks he's getting Alzheimer's because he can't recognize anyone. As luck would have it, there's a circus in town right across the street from his nursing home, so he sneaks out and literally joins the circus again.

This was really one of the dumbest books I have read in a long time. Unrealistic events took place just to make the story; it felt schizophrenic and unorganized. And nothing really happened and when it did, you were left wondering how that happened.

Normally books are better than movies, but in this case anything has to be better, so maybe the movie will be decent.

Verdict: Avoid It If At All Possible
Rating: ✭


  1. Aww that sucks about the book! We watched the movie a few weeks ago and thought it was really good!!! I had to convince my hubby to watch it (he considered it a chick flick) and he even said I made a good pick at the end :). Maybe try the movie out? :p

  2. Yeah, it was really bad. I think we may try to rent the movie and see if it could be saved in any way. I usually am not hard to please when it comes to books, but this one was just a trainwreck!

  3. i am relatively new to your blog...

    i have to agree--too much hype about the book...then i read it, and thought 'it was ok'...i didn't get the whoop...

  4. At first, people think she is stupid, but quite by accident, they discover she only responds to Polish commands and then they realize she is actually quite smart. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and could not put it down once I had started it. It is obvious that Ms. Gruen did quite a bit of research on the traveling circuses of the 1930's. She also includes actual pictures. It all comes together in a very entertaining read and an especially good ending. I loved it!

  5. I couldn't agree more with what you said. I got done and all I could think was SERIOUSLY. Did I really just waste my time reading that and how did it possibly get published. The actual idea of the book is okay, the whole 1930's depression era circus love story is kind of cool but the writing is utter ****. The main character Jacob has no stability in personality, AT ALL, as an old man he's a grumpy jerk, and throughout the book he goes from the CLICHE innocent good guy (set off by the fact that everyone is so "bad") to being manipulative and cunning in the parts where he deceives Uncle Al into thinking Marlena would get back with August. Then not to mention that I can't stand Marlena's character. Completely stereotypical, no depth, at all. Their "love" for each other has nothing to back it up, it's clearly superficial. They're willing to cause all this trouble, the death of Camel and Walter, run off and "make love" all before even telling each other the slightest thing about themselves. The author clearly has no idea how to set up a book in a way that you become emotionally involved..I basically just kept going because I was bored and wanted to see where the heck this was going.


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