Tuesday 15 February 2011

A new monthly feature! (and a review..)

Oh my goodness, this week is already insanely busy! Due to working hours and hours more than usual, I won't be able to blog very much for the next week or so... So, rather than double posting, check out the new fairytale feature I'm planning here! I'll be comparing original fairytales with one or more retellings on a monthly basis, and I'm really excited about it! The good thing about all the extra hours is that we may actually be able to get the internet at home soon, fingers crossed! Yay for being able to blog/surf/chat after 6pm!

Anyway, on to the actual review...

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is one of those books which just followed me around until I finally read it! I decided I wanted to read it for the Historical Fiction Challenge. Then, as asoon as I'd put it on the list, I found out about the film, which I'm super excited about! And then I started seeing posts about it everywhere. I had to order it from my lovely library, and I'm really glad I did.

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive 'ship of fools'. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival

Since I was a kid, I have been obsessed with the Circus, (for which I blame a combination of Noel Streatfeild and my mum) so when I found out what the book was about, I was really excited to start it.
Water for Elephants was much less sparkly than I expected, but I learned a lot from it. It's an interesting depiction of the reality of living in a train circus in the '30s, and its particular effectiveness lies in Gruen's choice of narrator. Jacob Jankowski is a young student vet, who misses his final exams following the death of his parents, and jumps onto a circus train by accident. Told through the eyes of his ninety- three year old self, from a nursing home he hates, the novel is the story of him getting to grips with the circus way of life, and his realisation that in many ways, it does not live up to his expectations. For me, the absolute visciousness and violence was hugely memorable, and in parts very upsetting. I really liked that Jacob reacted to things the same way that I did, and you got the feeling that he would never accept, as the other members of the circus had, that the cruelty and evilness was 'just the way things are'. I also like the circular arc of the story, which goes from the repression of youth to the repression of living in a nursing home, and shows escape from both. 
What I loved most about the book, though, was not the central love story, fraught with secrecy, violence, and obstacles as it was, but the story of the relationship between Jacob and the elephant. Rosie the elephant (more a fan of whisky than water!) provided some humour in an otherwise very heavy book, and was also a focal point for shaping many of the characters' personalities. Gruen has created a very thorough and even view of circus life in '30s America, and I cannot wait for the film!
While I didn't finish the novel feeling uplifted, I was satisfied at having finished a very well told and engaging story.
Rating: ****


  1. i love, love, love water for elephants and read it all in one sitting! :)

  2. I read this book for my book club awhile back, and liked it a lot more than I expected to. Like you, I felt satisfied with it at the end, and loved reading about Rosie.

  3. I have to read this still, I've been meaning to for a while...Isn't the movie coming out soon?

    New follower...


  4. Hi thanks for following! The movie is coming out soon and i'm so excited for it!