Kat Kennedy's Reviews > Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Sep 01, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporary-fiction, kat-s-book-reviews
Recommended for: People who like the circus. Or People who don't like the circus. Or people who have bolt cutters.
Read from October 06 to 10, 2010

I can count the number of times I've been to the circus on one hand. Actually, realistically, on one finger.

We were taken once by my grandparents when I was about five. First, last and only time. My parents hate the idea of the circus and scorned it with all the pretentious uninterest that would likely scar their children for life, causing them to grow up embittered, solitary and convicted to write scathing, snarky reviews on GoodReads as a form or self expression in order to share their own misery around and dump their unresolved feelings of angst on others lest it drown them.

So naturally I dove into this book with great excitement. Some dude carrying water for elephants? Sweet!

Well, I can only say that I received the education of a lifetime that led me to believe that in many ways, my parents were right to keep me away from the circus. I don't deceive myself with the thought that modern day circuses are anything like the depression era one featured in this book but I was glad to see that Gruen didn't glorify the trade.

I don't want to ruin the book for you but apparently people didn't just carry water for elephants. In fact, not a single person in this book carries water to an elephant. What? Misleading!

Okay, you don't carry water for elephants. They simply drink too much, apparently. Way to go, Gruen, for disenchanting me from a favored yet forbidden childhood dream of mine.

Isn't the circus supposed to be magical and wonderful and full of smiling faces and happy animals in funny outfits and clowns (actually, no, clowns freak me the hell out! I once attacked a clown when I was 10 years old and at a kid's birthday party and ended up needing stitches in my left foot. I wish I were kidding. Or lying, but I'm not.)

Well, embark on Gruen's, dark, textile and encapturing tale of one's mans journey into the circus to discover the life behind the big-top.

Jacob runs away to the circus, meeting the workers who keep the show running behind the scenes, the Equestrian and Managerie director and finally the Circus owner and Ring Leader, Uncle Al - all to discover that the circus isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Water for Elephants is full of characters both good, bad and in between. It's set in the Depression era and this detail adds a great deal of flavour to the underlying story. Jacob, a Cornell trained vet, goes to work in the Menagerei for the circus to care for the animals. The story gets packed tighter than a tiny car holding twenty-five clowns, all with a crazy foot itch, when Jacob falls in love with the wife of his volitile and crazy boss, August.

This story is at times melancholy, depressing, frustrating and down-right sad. In fact, there were many moments when I wanted to put the book down, pick up some bolt cutters and track down the nearest animal-carrying circus. Not for anything illegal like releasing the animals and releasing them to go and be free or anything. Just so we're all clear on that. If a circus loses it's animals somewhere near where you live, it wasn't me. Honest.

The romance aspect of this book was well done but wasn't actually the main focus. In fact, it was far overshadowed by Gruen's awesome portrayal of a cranky old man who didn't know whether he's ninety-one or ninety-three.

So over all it was a powerful, fun, gripping read that I would highly advise you go read so that when the movie comes out and people ask, you can sneak in with the line, "Well, in the book..." and make yourself look extra smart and well-read. C'mon, we all do it. Go knock yourself out.
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04/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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Elisa Ooh, getting ready for the new movie starring Rob Pattinson? ;)


Kat Kennedy I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not I'm getting ready to see Rob Pattinson. :p


message 3: by AH (new) - added it

AH Are you writing a review for this one? Did you see the Rob Pattinson photos from the filming?


Kat Kennedy Nope, I haven't seen any pics of the filming for this movie, but I have done a review for you!


message 5: by Penny (last edited Oct 11, 2010 05:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Penny When I was ten or eleven I begged my mother to take me to the circus, because I always wanted to go, wanted to know what I was missing out on. So my parents took me to the circus. And you know what? I never wanted to go back. Even at that age I knew there was something wrong with the whole scene.

I just knew they were probably treating the animals wrong, or something. Like in Dumbo--btw, to this day I cannot hear the song "Pink Elephants" without it freaking me the crap out. That whole drunken elephant sequence is really messed up, you know that? Scarred me for life at the wee age of five. True story.

I'd been playing with the idea of picking this book up for a while, because it's the sort of book everyone reads, ya know? I don't want to be the only one who passes up on a story about elephants and circus freaks, or whatever. But about a month ago my husband asked if I would like to watch The Elephant Man with him. So I did. THAT movie put me off the idea of circus' (or is it circuses? Circus's? Now that can't be right. Circi? Whatever) for the rest of my life. I mean, talk about a major downer, amirite?

Where was I? Oh, yes, love the review. I thought there would be at least one instance in which the MC carries a bucket of water for the elephants. I'm too literal, I suppose. :S Oh well. Unfortunately, ever since the Elephant Man experience I doubt I'll ever pick this book up. Thanks for taking the time to read it so I don't have to.


message 6: by AH (new) - added it

AH Great review, Kat! I've been meaning to read this one for a while, you know, to take a break from vamps and weres and such.


message 7: by Laura (last edited Oct 11, 2010 08:27AM) (new)

Laura I just have to ask... Why did you need ten stitches in your left foot? Did the clown fight back? I have a really peculiar image in my mind of a 10 year old girl brawling with a clown :oP


Kat Kennedy I didn't need 10 stitches in my foot - only 3.

This is what happened. The clown at the party was being extra annoying by using her horn to honk in everyone's ears. So nobody was very sorry when I blindsided her, snatched the horn and took off. She ran after me and caught me but not before I'd started dismantling the horn, dropping bits as I went. We wrestled for a bit and both of us came away victorious. She got the remainder of her horn back, and I walked away the honker part telling her I'd give it back when she learned to be responsible.

Any way, at some point the cylindrical part must have fallen on my foot and been BLOODY sharp. I didn't notice or feel it until maybe five minutes later when I looked down and realized I was bleeding. Everywhere.

I went and found the party mom and asked for a bandaid. She promptly passed out and someone got me an icepack instead (WHY?!) They called my dad and I really couldn't see the fuss. I was only gushing out blood! So three stitches later I was alright.

To this day I have a crescent shaped scar on my foot.

End of story.


message 9: by Laura (new)

Laura LoL. That's quite a story :o). Thanks for sharing. I'm glad to hear it was only 3 stitches. Clowns everywhere probably know not to mess with you!


Kat Kennedy Yeah. I know it's hard to believe considering the crazyness but I was like the class hero for that! That clown was so bloody annoying!


Joyzi Great review, just finish reading it yesterday and I love the book too, can't wait for the movie *squeals*!


Danielle Kat I literally laughed out loud when I read about your scuffle with the birthday clown! Priceless!!! :D


Kat Kennedy I've never lived it down, Danielle!


message 14: by Katie(babs) (new)

Katie(babs) What do you think of R-Patz and Witherspoon in the movie? Think they'll play the parts well?


Kat Kennedy Absolutely no idea. They're not the actors I would have picked for those roles.


message 16: by Katie(babs) (new)

Katie(babs) Kat wrote: "Absolutely no idea. They're not the actors I would have picked for those roles."

I don't think the movie will do that well, but I guess we'll see. Also the author wrote Water for National November Writing Month a few years ago. Good for her she got published :)


message 17: by AH (new) - added it

AH She wrote another book Ape House. Have you read it?


message 18: by Sandy (new)

Sandy It's never too late to do some re-parenting and take your inner child to the circus!


message 19: by scott (new)

scott wafrock love your story involving the "clown attack". i can see a book being written with this premise in mind!


Emily I was less impressed with this book than you were. I didnt understand all the hype this book got. its really not great


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