To Go: 79
21. Water For Elephants — Sara Gruen
I’ve officially concluded my first year at university. Exams start on Monday, but instead of preparing to study, I sat down and read Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants all day.
Water For Elephants flits between 23-year-old, newly orphaned Jacob Jankowski after he jumps onto a moving train and unknowingly joins the circus; and 90-year-old (or 93-year-old, he’s not really sure) Jacob Jankowski as he lives out his days in a nursing home with painfully sub-par food and (for the most part) awful nurses, while awaiting the day when his oldest son will come to take him for a day out to the circus.
Going into the book, I was both interested and a little hesitant. Given that it’s been turned into a movie with Robert Pattinson, the man of 20 expressions that all look the same, as Jacob, I must admit I had low expectations for the book; when I’d picked it up at Indigo, it had been an impulse buy. However, when I started reading it today, I found that I couldn’t put it down. And after finishing it, I was almost moved to tears. Not very many books are able to do that to me.
The plot itself surprised me, as well. I can’t say I’ve ever read a story in which a man jumps onto a passing train and becomes part of a circus, so it’s not like I could revert to familiar tropes, but I certainly didn’t expect the twists and turns that I got. Though the storyline originally seeming rather calm and staid, with undertones (or, at times, overtones) of sensuality and lust, the second half of the book upped the ante; during that time, I read for four hours straight and couldn’t put the book down. It refused to let me go. And the final chapter gave me just the closure that I needed, tying the book up nicely in a feel-good (if not a little cliched) ending.
I couldn’t get over how real the characters were; I’ve always thought that the mark of a good book is when its characters have the power to make you happy, to make you angry, to make you weep, and to make you relate to them. Water For Elephants did all of those things — whether it was August, the cruel animal trainer, making me seethe with anger, or Jacob and Marlena’s love affair that made my heart ache, or Rosie the elephant whose precocious behaviour always had me smiling.
All I can say is that the movie can’t possibly measure up to this book. There’s no way it’s possible, and I’m anticipating disappointment in the theatre. Because Water For Elephants was too good for words (and one of the stand-out books that I’ve read this year, by far).
Next book: The Borrowers – Mary Norton (one more children’s lit book to round out the semester).