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4.4 out of 5 stars
Water for Elephants
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64 of 76 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Just because someone can do research, tell a story and organize one's thoughts doesn't mean an author has anything to say. The characters in this book are cardboard , one dimesional and lack any depth . They are carefully draw heroes and villians. There is no depth to any of them and Jacob's reflections, an old man looking back on his youthful time in the circus, do not ring true. Much of the writing is tedious and uninspired. To read a REALLY good book about love and an old man's reflections try , A History of Love by Nicloe Krauss. Water for Elephant is highly over rated and the language is dull.
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50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
I rarely pick up best-sellers, but I felt compelled to torture myself through this one after Gruen was awarded -- in a baffling but sickeningly telling example of how lowest-common-denominator and bottom-line the book publishing business has become -- $5 million for her next two, as yet un-penned books. I've got $10 that says they involve touchy-feely maudlin interaction between people and animals and cliched romanctic treacle. I wouldn't be shocked to see a unicorn rear its head.

This novel is cliche and a pastiche of formula coopted from other, better books from cover to cover. The dialogue is PAINFUL. Every line feels prepackaged for the movie studio executive Gruen undoubtedly set out to placate before writing one word. Worse, while characters speak in cliched colloquial style, it remains ONE style. There is little to distinguish one voice from another. The plot, too, proceeds along a rote path -- I was predicting nearly every turn of it paragraphs, and then pages, ahead of time.

Gruen is justly commended for her research into circus history, which is the only original element she brings to the table. She clearly delights in it, though even that reads like dutiful observations culled from a torrent of microfiche and historical society archives. It's clear Gruen has spent a lot of time with her nose in books, and derives her style, such as it is, from other sources -- most notably, and unforgivably, William Styron's "Sophie's Choice," from which she shamelessly pilfers the very specific dynamics of that novel's central ill-fated love triangle, around which all else revolves. Gruen's Nathan is an equestrian director named August (interesting to note there are six letters in each name), and he's a Jewish paranoid schizophrenic. When Gruen's protoganist -- surprise! a young, precocious, naive but quickly maturing lover-boy bred from earnest all-American stock -- finds himself caught between the couple (Sophie is renamed Marlena here), all hell breaks loose ("all hell breaks loose" incidentally is a cliched phrase that appears several times throughout the book -- consider my usage a wry homage).

Do yourself a favor and buy the original, not the infantile copy.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book was easy reading, but was also kind of facile and read like a treatment for a movie script (and I am sure there will be a movie). I think we were supposed to find crotchety old Jacob lovably cantankerous, but I just thought he was annoying. The circus story (featuring young Jacob) was much better, but all it has is plot--characters don't really develop, writing is passable but not skilled.
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201 of 258 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
On the simplest level, all I can say is that it didn't amuse me and I couldn't force myself to finish it. But I'm a "hard sell" for fiction, and I can see by the other reviews that many people loved it. Lucky them!
On a slightly more analytic level, I'd say that what prevented me from enjoying the book was the "voice" of the narrator, who is supposed to be a man in his nineties remembering his youth in the circus. I'm a man approaching seventy, with some circus experiences as a teenager in Iowa and as the father of a circus acrobat in the Cirque de Soleil era. I found the "voice" of the narrator unconvincing, extremely unconvincing, as a male of the species and as a male American of the 1930s and 1940s. I couldn't get past that central implausibility. I found myself scoffing at the sensibilities of the pseudo-male narrator at every emotional turn of this quite melodramatic novel.
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37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Whoever recommended this book as a good beach read is correct. Those who claim to find great depth in it are mistaken. This story is lacking in authenticity; neither the actions nor the emotions are believable, and the elephant-keeping, as described, is insane. The author claims that many of the events in this book actually happened, but having them all occur in the space of three month puts them in the realm of fantasy. When author describes her research for this novel, it sounds like research for a term paper, and a term paper-novel sums up its quality very well. It's fun for the beach, but if you're looking for a serious novel, don't bother.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Sara Gruen did exhaustive research for her novel, Water for Elephants. But all went for naught to this reader. The story never became real to me. The characters were pasteboard figures. I was aware of the author too much, behind the scenes, pulling the levers. It seemed like a very "American" book- for people with short attention spans.

All in all, characterization was thin; narrative was thin, and the whole experience of reading the novel did not transport me to another world.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Easy going down and eminently forgettable. Not a bad effort by Ms. Gruen by any means, but a substantial amount of the book is given to cliched, obvious writing (both in language and character). The general premise is enjoyable, however; who doesn't like the circus? Reading "Water for Elephants" is like watching a movie on cable - odds are that you've already seen it, you know where it's going, but it's still a decent way to pass some time.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
The setting for this book sounded really promising, America in the 1930's, a circus touring the country, an elephant. In addition by the time I got around to reading it the book had become very popular (which I felt indicated it must be a good read). Overall I have to say the book was a letdown. I still feel the idea behind the story and its setting have the potential to make a great book but ultimately Ms. Gruen does not deliver on that potential. I was especially disappointed by the way the Kinko/Walter character changes his attitude towards Jacob seemingly overnight, the way it is written Walter's behaviour just doesn't ring true. The "love affair" between Marlena and Jacob is also disappointing, there are several scenes where a good writer would really be able to make you feel the internal conflicts the two characters obviously must be experiencing given their situation but again Ms. Gruen's prose just left me feeling flat.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
I couldn't wait for this book to come out in paperback. I started reading it the moment it came in the mail. I was hopelessly dissapointed with the read. After each chapter I kept thinking something great would happen in the next and it never did. I felt no connection to the characters at all. The big surprise ending was totally unbelievable. The end wrapped up too quickly and neatly. The only thing interesting about the book was the imagery she used to describe the time period and the circus. I have no idea why she chose that title because the elephant is not a major character at all. I did empathise with the older Jacob but found his decision in the end also unbelievable. Don't waste your time. This novel is nothing but a piece of fluff with no substance at all.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
Actually, come to think of it, my time would have been better spent staring at an hourglass. This book was a soap opera in print. The characters were mostly stereotypical, ergo predictable. I don't think giving the ending away in the prologue was such a great idea, because I spent the next 330+ pages waiting for something (anything!) to happen in that vein. Instead I found myself wading through pages of the author describing events such as tent raising, etc.. The romantic scenes were very campy. During the first several chapters when the book's format became aparent, I thought it was very fascinating to have the elder scenes interspersed with the circus scenes. It turns out that they didn't add much to the story, or even make me want to keep reading. The writing in the elder scenes was amusing, and soon those chapters became my reward for reading the cirucs chapters. The ending was perhaps the most aggravating aspect of this book. Something about Gruen's description of circus life and all its attendant characters makes me think it highly unlikely that a modern-day cirucs manager would embrace a decrepit old man and rescue him from life at the rest home. Maybe it was all those descriptions of redlighting we were given...I'm not sure. All said, I enjoyed Gruen's writing style, but I would have enjoyed it much more telling a story with some substance.
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