Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen


Let me begin this review by telling you two things:

1) While in the bookstore, I spent a considerable amount of time deciding whether or not to buy this book. Finally, I noticed on the back cover that Stephen King called this book a “fun read” that he “loved.” And so, though it did not entirely appeal to me, I decided to go with Mr. King’s recommendation.

2) I picked up this book to read this month only because the last two books I’d read were Water and Like Water For Chocolate. I guess I thought “… and hat-trick!” (interesting to note that both Water and Water for Elephants are set in the 1930s)

Genre: I am assuming the author intended historical fiction, but I am gonna tag it as romance (and not a good one at that).

Summary: The blurb on the back-cover will tell you that it is a story set in the Depression era, when Jacob Jankowski, a Cornell student of veterinary science, upon receiving the news of his parents’ death, runs away from college and joins a circus.

What I will tell you is: this here, ladies and gentlemen, is a love story between a cowardly, sentimental vet and a pink-sequinned dress (the dress is married, by the way). There’s a cute elephant thrown in for… something. The cute-factor, I’m guessing.

I have to say, the premise – the failing circus and all – could have been really well developed. Instead what you have is a boring, unoriginal love triangle that employs rather pedestrian prose which reminds me of the kind of fluff books I enjoyed as a thirteen year old, such as Sweet Valley University.

Actually, that’s a massive insult to SVU.

And the kind of violence and animal cruelty described in this book is in no way suitable for thirteen year olds. Let me think of another comparison.

… and I have. Come to think of it, it is more reminiscent of Nicholas Sparks. We have an old man reminiscing his magnificent youth, where all he can think of is whom he loved. We have two people who barely knew each other falling in love. We have a plot device trying to keep the lovers apart – in this case, the heroine Marlena’s mentally ill husband.

As much as I want to hunt for whatever Stephen King found in this novel, I am unable to; here’s the little that I liked: the elephant, and the fact that Sara Gruen wrote this book during NaNoWriMo.

The atmosphere is just not right – it evokes nothing in me. I do not feel that I’m in depression-era America, except in a few places that the narrative tells us about how stores have been shut down. I do not feel the setting is that of a circus; there’s none of its allure or dazzle, despite there being tents, horses, Marlena’s pink-sequined dress. The narrative is too plot-driven, the author tells us everything and shows us nothing, and the characters lack complexity. There’s nothing to look for beneath the surface. Jacob is too weepy and the only thing I remember Marlena doing throughout the book is knocking on doors. Yes, there’s a prologue where she does a lot more, but I felt the prologue (or was it chapter 1?) was totally unnecessary and spoiled the book. To top it all off, it’s slow as hell. It’s like watching a three-hour-long film i n   s l o w   m o t i o n.

I feel as though there are walls around me, but there’s no ground to stand on.

All in all, what you have here a lukewarm offering. Bland. Dull.

Goodreads | Amazon


8 thoughts on “Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

  1. Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you made the Nicholas Sparks comparison. I read this book while babysitting, years and years ago, and could NOT understand why it got so much buzz. The Nicholas Sparks comparison is spot on. It was melodramatic in the same way Sparks is, and had that same anemia to the relationships between characters. Man. Such a good point.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed it! Although I agree that some of the themes wouldn’t be suitable for a younger reader, and that probably isn’t made clear from the start. Also I agree that the prologue was unnecessary. i didn’t have a problem with it but I don’t really think it added anything.

    Liked by 1 person

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