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princessstarr

Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

Water for Elephants: A Novel

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen A sorta-disclaimer to begin with: I don’t read a lot of the more popular books I get asked about at work. I haven’t read The Help or Art of Racing in the Rain or Cutting for Stone or most anything that has a reading group guide. (I’m a little hypocritical with that last one.) It’s not that I have anything against these books, I’m just simply not interested. I’m sure they’re very well-written and intriguing. My problem with these books is that the cover copy is more concerned about how my life will be forever changed if I read this book, and if I’m going to read ONE BOOK THIS YEAR, it should be this. And not very much on what the book’s about. And I’m saying this because for a while, I wasn’t really interested in Water for Elephants. The only cover copy I read was full of these glowing reviews by every magazine at the time telling HOW ZOMG BEAUTIFUL IT WAS. What would have perked my interest immediately (and the eventual reason why I ended up reading it in the first place) was if they had thrown in “2006 NANOWRIMO WINNER.” I love NaNoWriMo, I devote myself to it every year. Of course I’m going to check out a book that was officially written for it. And here’s the thing, it’s a really good book to boot.Gruen’s descriptions of circus life (specifically, Depression-era) are just so incredibly vivid. You get the sense how desperate the workers and performers were just to get a steady job, but at the same time, how much the circus defines them. There’s such a complex social structure that we don’t get to see, but it’s so deeply ingrained into all of these characters. And even though the whole book isn’t all glittery descriptions of the circus acts, I like the behind-the-scenes moments so much more. Not because it strips away the glamour of this world, but it gives so much weight to the culture and life. And yet you still get swept up into the circus life.Even the glamour aspect works when you take in Jacob’s status as an unreliable narrator. He’s not so unreliable that you start doubting if any of the book happened, but it does give that touch of romanticism to the plot. I actually like that he plays up being a cranky old man when the narration shifts to the present. He could have very easily fallen into being a stereotype, but Jacob still remains a very real character. I like that he has the massive fear of becoming a forgotten vegetable (and again, we’re already seeing signs of him slipping), and it’s very real touch that I think helps with the book’s tone. And then we have young!Jacob, who’s very much the wide-eyed naïve. If we didn’t have the steady interjections from the present day Jacob, I would think younger Jacob is a little too wide-eyed and innocent, almost to the point that he’s playing up his whole white knight ideal. And to be fair, young Jacob’s boring. He doesn’t do much but mope and pine about Marlena. That said, I do like the friendships that he builds with the workingmen and Walter/Kinko. Especially Walter, I love that Jacob thinks that the two of them will get along, and Walter tells him to fuck off. If Gruen had even taken out the romantic plot, I think this book would have worked with the friendships.And then there’s August. Holy hell, that is a villain you love to hate. I like that he can be the most charming, slimy bastard imaginable, and then turn into a complete threat the next. (I didn’t want to touch on the film, as I haven’t seen it, but when I heard Christoph Waltz was playing August PERFECT CASTING OMG.) I’m not sure if I like the idea that he’s supposed to paranoid schizophrenic, as it does feel like an excuse for him to be a complete monster at times, but then again, it does feel like something that may have happened during the Depression. My big issue with the book is the romance. Much like young!Jacob, there’s really not much to Marlena. She’s very much a damsel that Jacob’s waiting to rescue, and the only time she shows her backbone is whenever someone threatens her horses. Also, like Jacob, Marlena seems too innocent and naïve. We know that she’s been involved with August long enough to know his ugly side, but she just weeps and waits for something to happen so she can run away. I would have liked her a lot more if she had been more bitter about love and called Jacob out a few times. And my big problem with the romance is that it’s too easy. Jacob and Marlena get away with their romance and everything’s tied neatly in a bow for them. I never got the sense of menace from August or Uncle Al or that their relationship was truly threatened by the way they gallivant around in the second half of the book. Even something like Marlena losing their first baby would have been fine. There’s really no consequences to the story, unless if you want to count Jacob being alone and forgotten in the nursing home. (And given the way the story ends, I don’t really give it to them.)Despite the problem with the romance, I do think it’s still an excellent read and very enjoyable at that. It’s worth giving it a look, especially for historical fiction fans.(*coughsupportNationalNovelWritingMonthcough*)