Sunday, 27 March 2011

Water for Elephants (Book Review)


Book: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Reason to Read: March Book Selection for the Book to Film Club, and I've only heard good things about it.

Wow. Where to start. I guess firstly I found Water For Elephants more than a little surprizing in terms of my reaction to the book. After all the love I've heard for it and reading several rave reviews, I was off to a very rocky start as I initially did not connect to the characters, story or setting. In fact, if it wasn't for the book club I would have actually put the book down after only reading a few chapters and gone onto the next book on my list. But, that wouldn't be setting the best example, so I kept on trudging though and eventually did start to make a connection, albeit never super strong.

I'll give it that it was a swift read and I enjoyed the circus setting, and did eventually start to warm over to the characters but had trouble connecting with the protagonist Jacob as he's well... so male. I guess I've really been reading books with female protagonists because I found this quite the change of pace and I was pretty impatient with Jacob, which feels pretty mean considering he starts off the journey with pretty devastating circumstances. And that was hard too, the setting and time period are during challenging times where everyone is really struggling and have very limited choices, which can lead to desperate acts, actions and reactions. I'm not a fan of that.

So, it certainly wasn't what I was expected. It reminded me of when people call something 'inspiring' but when I see it, it feels like the majority of it is bleak and then the inspiring part is because of the high contrast. I did absolutely adore a lot of the animal focus though, without that I'd have had a lot of trouble making in through.

I think the casting in the film is absolutely perfect though. Robert Pattinson (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse) as Jacob is a great fit, as are Reese Witherspoon as Marlena and Christoph Waltz as August. From the trailer I can say I'm totally loving the whimsical and slightly magical tone to the film, and the period feels like it's been captured with both quaintness and weariness that feel authentic and glamorous. The film is directed by Francis Lawrence, and I absolute loved the art direction an styling of Constantine, so with that in mind and the beauty of the trailer I have a feeling that I'll be captivated by the film, likely more so than the book.

Water for Elephants is our April Film selection for the Book to Film Club. The film will be released Friday April 22, 2011. See film review of Water for Elephants here.


Anonymous said...

Shannon I have to agree with the essence of your review. I thought I would like it more - assumed it would be quirky and it really wasn't. Some of the minor characters were more interesting than the main characters and I would have loved to learn more of their stories. There were things that fascinated such as the term "Jake walk". I thought I knew Depression Era/Prohibition stories, but I learned something here. The animal stuff was great - really the heart of the story, but I really thought we would meet (for example) the Orangutan again... alas.

I agree, I can completely see Pattinson as young Jacob. Marlena seemed younger in the book than Reese Witherspoon, but I think this casting is an improvement on the book. She looks and seems perfect for the era as does Christoph Waltz. Funny, the older Jacob in the book had more personality than the younger and I could attribute that to his state of mind. However, it truly seemed like the work of a "young" writer. I liked it, especially parts of it, but it was like being in a fog or being wrapped in cotton. I felt like Jacob might have felt...numb. Unfortunately, that's not a good place for the protagonist to spend his whole journey because in the end it's hard to remember what happened.


Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Hey Wray! Oh, it's so nice to hear we are on the same page on this one! The animal stuff really drew me in too, those were almost exclusively the highlights to me.

I think skewing Marlena older for the film will work for the viewer better. Her character could be the same age as Jacob, but she feels like she's older and I think Reese Witherspoon is a great choice.

Fascinating point about the challenge of a protagonist being in a fog... great insight!

Fingers crossed we'll enjoy the film!

Norlinda said...

For a "young" writer as Wray pointed out, I thought the book was okay. I thought there were too many minor characters that at times I couldn't keep track of who was who. Yeah Jacob didn't really grow as a character and perhaps that was the most glaring failure in the book.

My full review:

Espana said...

True, it is a bit graphic in the telling of some of the men on the circus train, but then again, this is real life among the lonely and desperate members of the small circus. The ending was the most satisfying (read "happy" and "warming") I can remember in a long time, and it left me cheering (out loud!) for the main character. Hooray for "Water for Elephants"!!!!!

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