Book Review: Water For Elephants (Sara Gruen)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads


Publisher: Hodder Paperback

Pages: 429

Release Date: 2008

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…


I have to say this is not the kind of book I would usually pick up for myself – it mostly sounded like a romance, and that’s just not my kind of thing. But that’s why I love doing this feature with Stacie, so I can try things out of my comfort zone.I tried to go in with an open mind, but my head just kept providing images of the film with Twilight guy and Bridget Jones (I’ve not watched it, and I don’t think I will after reading the book).

There were two things that I really liked about this book. One was the beginning, and how it influenced the way I read the book and thought about the characters. I can’t say too much without spoiling it, but it was very clever.

I also really liked the bits in between the main storyline, where we see Jacob as an old man in a nursing home. This is just a personal point for me, but I found it really sad. I have a grandmother who lives with me and a nan who lives in a home and they both have varying stages of dementia. This book let me imagine things from their point of view, getting frustrated when you forget things you know you should remember, getting confused over time and over your words. It was a bit painful to read to be honest, but in a way I could appreciate.

I think the main downfall for me on this book was that I just didn’t feel the connection between the main couple (Jacob and Marlene). It was a bit insta-love for me: they both just saw each other and fell in love and I don’t buy it. Even when they were together, I just didn’t see it, and as a lot of their actions – towards the end especially – revolved around that love for each other, it just didn’t make sense to me.

Marlene was also a disappointment to me. The other characters in the book felt so well rounded and I completely believed in them, but she felt a little hollow to me. It felt like she was just there for Jacob to fall in love with – I didn’t get much character from her. A big bugbear (is that really a saying?! It looks weird…) was the fact that the two bits where she spilled her heart out and talked about her past and relationship problems, were narrated by Jacob, rather than us hearing it from her, which spoke volumes to me.

I think her flaws were more obvious because Jacob was such a brilliant character. Again, I loved him as the old man, where he was witty and grouchy and loveable in equal measures.

Overall, this isn’t really my kind of read, but I can see why others like it. I didn’t hate it by any means, but I also probably won’t read it again.


Check out Stacie’s review here