Nataliya's Reviews > Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Jun 27, 12

bookshelves: 2012-reads, i-also-saw-the-film
Read from March 10 to 11, 2012 — I own a copy, read count: 1


I picked up Water for Elephants after seeing the movie. You know, the one with "that Twilight guy" - who for a change was allowed to smile. And to have other facial expressions besides "permanently constipated". The math is simple:

.........................
Drum roll: Rosie the elephant works better than Ex-Lax!

But on to the book now. In addition to Jacob Jankowski's "love affair" with Rosie the elephant (and a noticeably less sweet affair with Marlena-the-bland-chick) we get a parallel story of Jacob the old guy (who is ninety. Or ninety-three). The latter was the part of the book that I loved. It's a sad story of a cranky old guy in a nursing home who feels his mind and body falling apart but refuses to accept that, and realizes that life is beginning to pass him by. He reminded me of so many elderly patients that I have taken care of in the hospital. Sadness. This is why I did not mind the far-fetched happy ending - hey, old folks don't always have enough happiness in their lives, and they have earned it!

(a) Here is what I did NOT care for.
The young Jacob's story (the bulk of the book) left me rather indifferent. The premise and the beginning of the book were interesting, but the story started dragging about a third into the book. It became repetitive - August is charming, August is a villain, Marlena pouts, Rosie gets viciously beaten, Jake wants Marlena, Marlena wants Jake, Jake and Marlena can't have each other. Rinse and repeat. The story developments become more and more superficial and detached as the story progresses, as though the author ran out of steam and was finishing the book only because she was under contract to do so. Many characters are flat as well. Young Jacob is naive to the point of disbelief, and Marlena is very bland. Besides her beauty, there seems to be little reason for anyone to love her. Uncle Al is greedy and evil. The only twist in the story ((view spoiler)) felt anticlimactic since by that point I found it hard to care. Oh, and I don't think it would have been too difficult to include a few footnotes with translation of Polish phrases. I can read some Polish, so it was not an issue for me, but why not oblige a reader who does not understand Polish?

(b) Here is what I thought was nicely done.
I did love the characterization of August. The oscillation between delightfully charming and batshit crazy was portrayed very well. We can argue whether this portrayal vilifies mental illness ((view spoiler)), but from my experience with people with similar condition it is shown quite close to the truth, unpleasant as the truth may be. I felt bad for August in the end, and I think it's the feeling the author was going for - some sympathy for the "villain".
I loved the descriptions of circus life during the Great Depression. The poverty, the brutality, the beauty, the hard work - all was shown very well. Unfortunately, these elements are much better developed in the first part of the book than the second.

Overall, I though the book was an uneven but mostly enjoyable read. It did not change my life in any way, but it was not a waste of time either. Nice story of circus life interspersed with bland romance, with a touching parallel story of trying to reclaim one's identity in the aging body and mind.
3 stars is the verdict.

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Reading Progress

03/10/2012 page 52
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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Becky Nataliya, if you enjoyed old Jacob's story, I think that you might enjoy Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull. This is a war story, and a love story, and also has old/young narrative lines, but I thought it was fantastic and realistic, and surprisingly funny at times.

It's a great book. :)

Great review though, and I especially liked the parts about "that Twilight guy". LOL

PS. I got here through a friend liking your review. Totally not a creepy Water For Elephants stalker trying to push (what I thought was) a better book. LOL


Nataliya Becky, thanks for recommendation. I will check out that book - seems interesting from the description.


message 3: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Great review--I laughed several times! I may have to give this one a pass since I suspect your entertaining review is better than the book.


Stephanie I wasn't a huge fan of this one either....great review. Very funny.


message 5: by Betty (new) - added it

Betty Wright You lost me at "that guy from twilight".


Nataliya Betty wrote: "You lost me at "that guy from twilight"."

Unfortunately, that's how I will always think of him. But it's his own fault - no one held a gun to his head forcing him to star in that (as far as I know). He's not that bad of an actor, actually - it's just that it's hard to be any good playing a self-hating emo sparkler without many facial expression.


Nataliya I must have been in a really good mood when I rated it. But I did enjoy the story of old Jacob, and that's what all those stars go to. A cranky but feisty old guy - that's what I really loved reading about. That was unexpectedly touching. The rest of the story - meh.


Nataliya Kat wrote: "Funny that you think of Pattinson as 'that Twilight guy'. I still think of him as Cedric Diggory. ;)"

I did think that for a while as well, but eventually the pancake makeup/lipstick/bad hair combo imprinted itself on my poor neurons :(


Nataliya I would love that! But then I would never be able to completely horrify people who somehow were lucky to escape any knowledge about the Twilight craze (like my mother, bless her innocent soul) with the whole abusive relationship/extreme codependency/'and also, they sparkle!' scary combo! I love watching people's eyes get wider and wider as I tell them about the sparkliness :D

Of course, rereading this, I realize that getting rid of my Twilight-i-fied neurons is the only possible way to proceed.


Nataliya I want to see that movie! Usually I laugh along with Twilight with RiffTrax.
(Plus I should keep the neurons anyway - I don't have that many of them to begin with, and maybe I can retrain them to do more productive things).


message 11: by Nelly (new)

Nelly I just saw the movie and am glad I never bothered with the book. The Twilight guy was good (haven't seen the movies but I do think he is beautiful) but there was absolutely no chemistry between him and Reese Witherspoon. I think she was miscast. Somehow, I have never felt the urge to pic up the book and now am sure I never will. Thanks for your review.


Nataliya Nelly wrote: "I just saw the movie and am glad I never bothered with the book. The Twilight guy was good (haven't seen the movies but I do think he is beautiful) but there was absolutely no chemistry between him..."

Believe it or not, even the weak chemistry between Jacob and Marlena in the movie was still better than what we see in the book (and same goes for Jacob and Rosie the elephant ;) August was the only character who was done very well in the book (with the exception of old Jacob).


Ashley I haven't seen the movie, and I agree that there could have been more elaboration on the romance and his life with Marlena, but it's not a romance book, it's an adventure.

I, for one, thorughly enjoyed the journey that Ms. Gruen took me on, as well as the way she addressed the fear of getting old--which is primarily what the book is about.


Ashley Also I regret that your review is so prominent when it appears as though you probably haven't even read the book. I feel bad for people who come here seeking decent reviews only to find poor "entertainment" reviews such as this.


Nataliya Ashley wrote: "Also I regret that your review is so prominent when it appears as though you probably haven't even read the book. I feel bad for people who come here seeking decent reviews only to find poor "enter..."

Uncalled for, Ashley. I have read the book, every single page of it, despite you thinking otherwise. I also gave it a three-star rating, which to me means 'liked it but nothing special'. Is that's what the issue is for you here?

I don't quite see what makes my review a 'poor "entertainment" review' in your opinion - I do explain why I gave the book the rating that I did. Maybe you disagree with my opinion (obviously) and love this book more than I did, but that does not invalidate my opinion. You enjoyed it, I did to a lesser extent, and neither of us is wrong.


message 16: by Josh (new)

Josh Damn, I actually found this to be an exceptionally fair review, and if I pick the book up I might expect to skim good chunks of it. I'm so confused on where someone could get the idea that it was a joke review? Either that comment was meant to be directed elsewhere, or she automatically assumes pictures = joke.


message 17: by Jenn (new) - added it

Jenn I love this review! Maybe I will even watch the movie after reading the book! :)


Nataliya Jenn wrote: "I love this review! Maybe I will even watch the movie after reading the book! :)"

Thanks, Jenn!


Michel Pencinni Great review as per usual Nataliya. I picked up this book and I am thoroughly enjoying it.


Nataliya Michel wrote: "Great review as per usual Nataliya. I picked up this book and I am thoroughly enjoying it."

Thanks, Michel! I'm glad to see that you loved this book.


message 21: by Kendra (new) - added it

Kendra Great review, I was trying to decide if I should read it since I kind of liked the movie. I thought it was weird that they casted Reese to play the love interest of Pattinson. Isn't she mid thirties now and he's barely old enough to drink? Or maybe that was a detail in the book but not mentioned in the movie. Anyway it was a big help!


message 22: by Tiffany (new) - added it

Tiffany Wonderful review! Thanks to you, I might get it on my next trip to the library! I considered watching the movie, and happened upon it a Target one day, though I only read the back and didn't actually get the movie. BUT I happened to notice it mentioned the book, and (at that time) I had no knowledge if there being a book! It sounded interesting enough, so decided to do my usual reach on GoodReads to see if it was worth reading. I didn't even know who's point of view it was from, let alone know it was all about a memory! (Backs of movies give no information!) Hope I enjoy it a little more than you did. Thanks again!


Nataliya Tiffany wrote: "Wonderful review! Thanks to you, I might get it on my next trip to the library! I considered watching the movie, and happened upon it a Target one day, though I only read the back and didn't actual..."

Thanks, Tiffany!


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