Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review- Water for Elephants

I wanted to get my review of the novel version of Water for Elephants out before I go see the film version of it tomorrow with my girl friends. I’ve actually been looking forward to this film for awhile because I absolutely adored the book. Most of my friends found it strange that I was looking forward to this movie because most of them think of me as an avid romance hating movie goer. Au contraire actually. I do love a good romance, but I just think the Hollywood industry gets it wrong 90% of the time. I read Water for Elephants back in 2008 when the Twilight craze hit. I was at school at the time so while all my friends were passing around their copies of Twilight, I was trying to pass them my copy of Water for Elephants as a good alternative for a quality romance novel. Most of my friends ended up loving it; some of them declared there wasn’t enough romance for them and too much Great Depression history mumbo jumbo. The marketing campaign actually made it seem like it was trying to draw the Twilight crowd by featuring Robert Pattinson, declaring it an obvious romance, and playing on the whole love triangle aspect. I actual don’t think this was a good move because I doubt most silly teenagers will be intrigued enough. I personally think it would have been smarter to aim towards a older, more mature audience, and by the results of this past weekend’s box office, I may have been right. Poor Robert Pattinson seems like he’ll never break out this sappy, romantic, pretty-boy image.

Let me give you a brief synopsis. Now again, I read this back in 2008 so my memory can be a bit shaky, so bear with me. Though this is categorized as a romance novel, I personally think it’s more of a historical fiction novel. The romance isn’t necessarily what the story revolves around, but more one of the aspects that play a part in the story. The author Sara Gruen obviously did an insane amount of research for this novel. The book is accompanied by neat, real-life Great Depression Circus photos every few chapters. You often learn about the Great Depression in school, mostly about the factory workers and such; who’d give a second thought about what it was like to work in a circus during that time? One would guess it would be a pretty fun gig when everyone else in the country was starving right? Not really. Life in the circus was rough and violent, and Water for Elephants draws it all out for you.

The book is told from a 90-some year old Jacob Jankowski who now lives in a nursing home. A circus is coming to town and the entire nursing home is in a fit of excitement. This begins to bring back Jacobs old memories from the time when he was twenty-three years old and attending veterinary school at Cornell. One the day of Jacob’s final exam, he finds out his parents died in a car crash and his father had incredible debt. Before finishing his exam and qualifying to be an official vet, Jacob runs away. He sneaks onto a moving train at night to find out it’s a circus train. The owner of the circus, Uncle Al, finds out about Jacobs vet training and hires him to take of the animals. Jacobs shares quarters with a Midget named Walter, whose relationship with Jacob starts off sour, but eventually leads them to become good friends. Soon afterwards, the two of them bring an immobilized man named Camel to share their living quarters. The two of them hide Camel there at the fear of him being red-lighted if discovered he can no longer move his arms or legs.

Jacob begins working with the animal trainer August and the two of them become semi-friends. Jacobs noticed something strange about August in his behavior in episodes where he seems to become a different person. August is a violent animal trainer, much to Jacob’s disgust. August soon introduces Jacob to his beautiful wide Marlena, and Jacob immediately becomes enamored with her. Looking at the other side of stuff, the circus attendance is dwindling and people don’t seem to respond to their performances. Uncle Al decides to buy an elephant named Rosie thinking she will bring up attendance; however, Rosie doesn’t seem to be able to perform any tricks and seems utterly useless. To Jacob however, Rosie is the second thing he falls in love with at the circus. August turns his violent nature onto Rosie and takes to beating her constantly. His violent behavior towards both Rosie and Marlena starts to draw some tension in his relationship with Jacob.

This book doesn’t shy away from the gritty stuff. The circus owner, Uncle Al, is a horribly corrupt and abusive man. He doesn’t often pay his workers on pay day, and is known to red-light workers he deems useless. The term “red-light” means to toss someone off the moving train in the dead of night. The workers that are red-lighted are either killed or horribly injured. There might be a teary moment in the book when some characters get red-lighted.

Overall the book is quite gripping and you won’t want to put it down the further in you read it. I think Jacob’s character was written and developed really well! I certainly hope Robert Pattinson can pull of his character- it’ll be a tough one. I certainly didn’t imagine anything even closely resembling Robert Pattinson to be Jacob, who if I recall correctly, is suppose to be an unattractive ginger. Another thing, I certainly respect Reese Witherspoon as an actress, but I definitely did not imagine her as Marlene. I think Reese Witherspoon is fully capable to stealing the screen and shining in her role, but that’s the exact opposite of what Marlena’s presence in the book was. Marlena was more of a quite, modest presence and seemed to speak to Jacob indirectly and subtly influence his character development. The book was all about Jacob really, and Jacob alone. I’m going to have to see how these two do on screen together tomorrow. Christoph Waltz on the other hand is peeeeerfect for August.

Final Score- 9/10

No comments:

Post a Comment