book review

Book Review: Water for Elephants - by Sara Gruen

9:21 AM

Summary from goodreads: Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future. By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love. In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all... 

Rating: 2/5 stars

*If you're expecting an abundance of elephants, prepare to be disappointed.

A novel about a circus during the Depression and Prohibition era? Seems interesting. 

Written in first person point of view and shifting between modern time and the past, Water for Elephants was disappointing, to say the least. It had a few things going for it. For one, the plot was interesting; or more appropriately, the plot had potential. It also had a lot of imagery, and the beginning was more than enough to draw the reader in. But that's where the strengths end. As for the weaknesses, there were too many to make the novel worth reading. The execution was poor, the characters were flat, it was unnecessarily explicit several too many times, etc.

The synopsis of this novel makes it seem like the story had a clear direction. The first chapter then solidifies the greatness that is to be expected. But really, it was messy and confusing. Not confusing in the sense where you don't understand what's happening, rather it was confusing in the sense where you don't understand why it's being narrated.

Early on in the story, there was a murder, which makes it seem as if the rest of the novel narrates events that lead up to this cold blooded murder. However, when the reader finishes, they find that the story could have been told in a few pages, meaning about fifty percent of the scenes described was simply excess information. True, the glory of most novels is watching how a story unfolds and seeing how one event leads to another and watching the characters develop, so on and so forth. But these aspects rarely made an appearance in Water for Elephants. 

The characters could have been written better. With the exception of the main character, none of the characters really developed, and if they did, their development was unsatisfactory. Jacob went from being sad to being in love without much of a transition. As for Marlena, she was the most underdeveloped of them all. She was trying to be a strong, round character. But in reality, she was just a love interest. 

The best parts of Water for Elephants were the scenes written in modern time from the perspective of the old and bitter Jacob. Although these scenes were few, they came in all the right moments and there were just enough of them. With that being said, the characters were diverse and they all had unique personalities. In addition, as annoying as the characters were and as confusing as the execution was, the plot kept the reader hooked.

All in all, Water for Elephants is not a novel I would recommend. It may be a better read the second time around since the reader would understand it more, but in all honesty, with the way story played out, there really isn't much to motivate me to read it again (but that's my personal opinion). 

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