I was surprised that I ended up liking this book. I say "ended up liking" because it took me around 100 pages to get into it. I didn't hate it up to that point, but it failed to grip me or impress me, and I didn't feel connected to the characters. That's not to say some of them weren't interesting. As usual, the villains stand out as the most colorful. Still, I was concerned. For one, I kept expecting Jacob to lose his virginity to Barbara the whore. I mean, he was so concerned about being a virgin and wanting to lose it, but I liked that he had kept it in his pants. So I was pretty much thinking, "Noooo! Don't lose it to a hooker! Wait for Marlena, you dumb man!"
Ahem. Anyway, then the scene came, and I was left with the impression that he didn't, um, get deflowered, as it were. But it was never clarified. But at that point I didn't care all that much, because I was still waiting for the exciting, gripping part of the story to come, which I knew it would. That's why I kept reading.
And it finally did. It took hold, to a point. First of all, I am naturally drawn to anything set in or around the Depression. That time period always fascinated me, and it's part of the reason I picked this book up. Being set at the circus is another attraction, and of course the promise of forbidden love and an elephant aren't exactly turn offs.
I knew there would be animal violence, and, naturally, there was. Luckily it didn't upset me too much. I remember reading a book and liking it, then near the end there was an unexpected, quick-as-lightning killing of a beloved innocent, young horse. Yes, that effected me. But this, while disturbing and unpleasant to read, was not as shocking or unbearable to read. Still, I couldn't help but visualize poor Rosie getting a beating. It's a good way to emotionally punch a reader, I'm telling you.
I wasn't sure about the writing style at first. First person, present tense. It doesn't always work, but Sara Gruen managed to make it gel. There's always the danger of a book being too simply written and the author neglecting the language of writing. Water For Elephants isn't big on the art of language, but it's written well enough to attract readers and not lose them. It's a book written for the masses and read by the masses, and books like that generally aren't complicated reads. So WFE has both an attractive plot and an easy writing style to put itself on the bestseller list.
The actual romance didn't spark much in me, but I was still rooting for the troubled lovers. What ended up really working was the feeling of nostalgia that Gruen was able to convey. I couldn't help but feel what old Jacob was feeling. That sense of longing worked because (obviously) of the alternating chapters jumping from 1931 to present day; youthful, lively Jacob with his whole life ahead of him, to old, alone, at-the-end-of-his-days Jacob. This isn't the first time I've read a book that made me sad, wishing for the past (not mine, theirs). It must be hard to have lived such an exciting, fulfilling life and then be at that point when that life is over, and not only is it over, but it's been over.
And you wish you could go back and do it all over again. So sad. But this is fiction. However, Gruen was successful at making me feel that way, so kudos to her for that.
Overall, for me, it wasn't a great book, it had some cliches, and it could have worked in some instances more than it did, but for the most part it succeeded, and it is worth reading once. She also did her research, as you can tell by reading it.
I don't know if I'll see the movie. I already know that certain important parts of the book have been altered. Uncle Al isn't there, for one, which I think is a mistake. But I'll probably see it at some point. I usually do see adaptations from books I've read.
I must now go into my happy place.
My grade: C+