WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen

I have been in paradise, also known as Cape May, NJ, since yesterday. I was very lucky to be invited to a blogger trip to a lovely hotel here called Congress Hall. I've had a few hours here and there to myself, which of course I spent reading.

Gruen This afternoon, I finished Water for Elephants, which I had been listening to on audio but finished in paperback. I picked up Water for Elephants because I thought I might want to see the movie, and I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie (my preferred order). I was late to the party on this one too – I think everyone else in the world has read it already.

And… I have to say, I really didn't like it. The book is about Jacob Jankowski, a young man who ends up working for a second-rate circus during Depression-era America. It is mostly told though the eyes of young Jacob, with some interspersed chapters narrated by a 90 year-old Jacob.

I thought that Water for Elephants read like a screenplay. The dialogue was both predictable and unnatural, and the love story at the core of the book was entirely unconvincing. The history of the circus and its role in that period of American history was interesting, yes. But otherwise, I didn't find much that was compelling about the book. There's a lot of cruelty to animals – not to mention people. And the plot was thin.

Part of the problem may have been the audiobook. I *hated* the narration of the young Jacob chapters. The narrator's voice was overly dramatic, and and the modulation of his tone to reflect different emotions (love, anger, tenderness) was so extreme that it was distracting. I have read a few positive reviews of the audiobook for Water for Elephants, which really surprised me. (I did switch to the paperback about 2/3 of the way through, and it didn't redeem the book for me. So it can't all be blamed on the narration.)

I am going to add Water for Elephants to the list of bestsellers that just didn't do it for me. I can't recommend this one.

If you liked Water for Elephants, tell me why. What did I miss here?

7 Comments

  • Susan B
    June 11, 2011 - 7:50 am | Permalink

    I finally read this a few months ago and felt the same way about it. I thought the writing was mediocre at best and I saw the ending coming from very early in the book. I’m really surprised this book is so popular.

  • June 11, 2011 - 7:53 am | Permalink

    I liked this book a lot when I read it. It’s been a while, but I loved the way it was set up with Jacob reflecting back on his life and I loved the characters. I also liked getting a peek at life in a circus.

  • Susan
    June 11, 2011 - 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I read Water for Elephants soon after it came out several years ago and felt the same way you did – so many people I know liked it, but I just didn’t get it and did not like the story or the characters.

  • Sarah
    June 11, 2011 - 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I really liked “Water for Elephants” when I read it a few months ago (I, too, was late to the party). Part of what I liked, I suppose, was how it differed from what I usually read (like you, Gayle, I read a lot of domestic fiction). I felt like it pushed me to imagine a life completely unknown to me — working for a mediocre circus during the Depression. I actually felt like I learned a lot — I thought the author did a very good job of researching circuses circa the 1930s! It was such a sad book in many respects, that I was pleasantly surprised by the ending (i.e. what becomes of the young Jacob).

  • Tiffany D.
    June 13, 2011 - 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I read this a month or two ago because I, too, wanted to read it before I saw the movie. I am glad to know that I am not the only person who didn’t think it was the best thing ever like everyone else seems to think. It took forever for me to have any interest in it, I think finally around page 250 it picked up. I just couldn’t get into it.

  • June 14, 2011 - 6:52 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t read this, and have skipped the movie based on its bad reviews. But I can totally relate to the narrator’s voice being a turn-off in the audio book. I bought “Atlas Shrugged” on audio books and the narrator sounded as melodramatic and campy as an old-time radio announcer.

  • June 15, 2011 - 10:40 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read it yet although I did buy it for my iPad when it was on sale in the iBooks store. I have been looking forward to reading it because I read so many positive reviews of it in the past. I’ll let you know what I think when I get around to reading it.

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