Water for Elephants- Sara Gruen

Cover of "Water for Elephants: A Novel"

Cover of Water for Elephants: A Novel

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write this one up. I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen several months ago, before seeing the film starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. I was lucky enough to score tickets to the Australian Premier of the film, from one of my good friends, Tara.  Where possible I like to read a book, before seeing any film, television or theatrical version of it. I like being able to make up my own mind about what characters and places look like, before seeing whether a director sees them the same way.

I have to say that this was one of the rare instances where the film improved upon the book. Although the book was okay, it felt like it was a couple of drafts away from perfection. The process of turning it into a film stripped away unneccesary extra characters and the annoying retirement home subplot of the novel, leaving behind what should have been a great story.

Water for Elephants is about a circus traveling through America during the Great Depression. Jacob Jankowski is a veterinary science student at Cornell University, about to take his final exams, when he learns that his parents have died. To add to the blow of loosing his parents, Jacob also learns that their house and all their possessions are now owned by the bank. Penniless, homeless and unemployed, Jacob takes to the rails in search of a living. On boarding the first train that comes along, he finds himself having joined the Benzini Brother Most Spectacular Show on Earth. He also meets Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star, married to the charasmatic, but often cruel animal trainer.

As I said this book could have been so much more than it was. The subject matter alone should have been enough. But, for some reason, it just doesn’t quite hit the mark. There is no doubt that Gruen has filled her circus with all kinds of interesting characters, and has drawn an authentic picture of the prohibition era. But, it just misses something.

Although not awful, and a reasonable read, I would save this one for when you have nothing else to read.