The book was met with mixed opinions, some of us loved the atmosphere of the circus that the author portrayed, others found it all a little bit “naff” and pointless. Although Water for Elephants is an easy to read book, some members found it hard to WANT to read the book, especially as the prologue tells you what will happen at the end, and many members had already watched the film adaptation, so were unable to be as gripped by the unfolding events as they could have been. Most of us enjoyed the historical references to the Great Depression and the working of a Circus, and feel that the author went to huge lengths to research the subject before beginning the book.
Most of us agreed that the love story was the least believable part of the book, wondering why Marlena would fall for Jacob. The references to the circus and the economic situation were interesting and taught most of us new things of that era. Of all the parts of the book, the majority of the group were most touched by the old version of Jacob, how he was left in the care home, many of his family members forgetting about him, and also how he didn't think of himself as old, and was force fed his medication – Leaving many of our members concerned for their own future. Gruen created good imagery and this provided a good build up to the reality of the violence and financial situation.
The group loved Rosie and the other animals and perhaps found these the most convincing of the characters, finding the three main human characters a bit two dimensional and boring. However, as mentioned above, the group did like the older version of Jacob, as this is how many older people are seen today and it’s easy to sympathise with him and hope that our own futures hold more than a life cooped up in a care home. The other human characters that were well liked were those of the workmen, made more convincing by the threat of red-lighting, something most of us did not know about and were shocked to learn occurred in those days. Camel and Walter, had good parts too, and were thought upon as typical circus folk of the era.
The obvious theme which stood out was the animal cruelty, and the group was pleased that Rosie sought her revenge! We were interested to read about Jake Leg, and discover how many people this actually effected during the prohibition. The reality of Jacob in the nursing home, made us all feel sorry for him.
The ending was thought of as silly by most of us, a 90 year old man running away from him care home to join the circus, just wouldn't happen. One of our members suggested that if he had died, and it was his idea of going to heaven, then it would have been better. It was nice that Jacob finally made his way to the circus, and managed to speak to someone interested in his past. It would have been nice if Rosemary his nurse took him. Although the ending was silly, it would have been very sad to see Jacob returned to the care home that he hated. Some members were confused over why there was such a big fuss over the “secret”, and wondered why Marlena and Jacob never spoke of Augusts murder. It was also nice that at the end of the stampede Marlena and Jacob went back for Queenie, Bobo, and the horses as well as taking Rosie.
The writing style read a little bit like a young adult book, which at least made the book easy to read. Gruen put a lot of effort into her research and we all appreciated that. It was about 50/50 as to whether any of our members would read anything by her again, but for those of us who love animals and the eras she write about we will (or already have in a few cases) pick up more of her work, more for the subject matter than the writing style!
9 members voted on this book and gave it an average score of 7 out of ten with 3 being the lowest and 9 being the highest.
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