Sunday, 8 January 2012

Review: Water for elephants, by Sara Gruen

Yet another review of a book that has been turned into a film based upon it's mass perceived awesomeness. I really ought to widen my reading into more obscure books, where Hollywood has yet to shine it's bright lights. In this instance, I am grateful to Hollywood and it's well funded advertising campaigns, as, without these, I would have probably overlooked this book and it's awesomeness.
I'm a fairly soft hearted person in denial (can you even admit to being in denial?). Anyway, I hate crying at sad films and so will avoid any film that will almost certainly make me cry (Armageddon, Marley and Me, The Time Traveller's Wife, I Am Legend, the list is endless), and if I'm watching a film which I is suddenly sad, I'll find an reason to leave the room to avoid all of the sadness.

But anyway, rambling aside, where was I? Shiny lights, crying, avoiding sad films, get told by a friend that they cried at the film, and so avoiding this film. And then I saw the book and read that as an alternative to crying at the film. And then I cried at the book instead, but it was totally worth it.

So I'm reading the prologue thinking "ooh circus animals and chaos, and escaping animals, oh and was that a murder?" then it goes into the present day where an old man is having a flashback/telling the story/remembering it etc. and I'm waiting for it to be dreadful, because flashback introductions are nearly always padding, and nearly always terrible. (Wuthering Heights much?) But luckily, naffness just doesn't appear, because it's actually two stories about one man, woven together beautifully. Old Jacob has just as much personality, depth and character and grumpy but cool old man realness as young Jacob has youthful screwed-over-by-life-sadness. And because it's two stories, and not padding, it's extra good because then, when it comes to the bit at the end (deftly avoiding spoilers here), the bit that I thought was going to be super sad and tragic becomes empowering and happy! Yayness! So naturally I bawled my eyed out in a really happy way, whilst only looking mildly like a complete idiot.

Just in case anyone doesn't know what
a pink hipster elephant looks like...
So, plot points: old Jacob is moping about in his old people's home when the circus comes to town and reminds him of his youth. Young Jacob drops out of veterinary college when his parents die, leaving him penniless. A chance stroll leads him to be walking along the train track when a train passes and he feels compelled by writers whim to jump on. It turns out to be a travelling circus. After a chapter or two of confusing circus lingo and several personal trips to Google  Jacob is introduced to the Crazy Boss Man.
The conversation then goes along the lines of; "you're a vet, that's most convenient, as we have animals. Have a job, and while you're at it, get a look at my beautiful wife Marlena, who I abuse even though she is pretty and lovely and hangs out with horses."

A horse is killed to feed the lions, and the falling in love begins, as does the slow unveiling of the drunken crazy Boss man actually being total psycho Boss man. Add in circus politics, an elephant and a monkey, and slap it all onto an American prohibition era backdrop and it totally revolutionises the boy-meets-married-girl-and-chaos-reigns genre. Love, love, love it! 8.5 and maybe an extra half for really good twists- so a total of 9 stars. I may even go so far as to watch the film version.

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