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The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore Paperback – February 13, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: From the first page of Benjamin Hale's exquisite novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, Hale’s linguistic talent locks the reader into their seat and sends them ticking up the roller coaster ride of Bruno Littlemore’s life. An unlikely narrator, Bruno is a chimpanzee trying to become a man--a process he sees as “equal parts enlightenment and imprinting your brain with taboos.” Bruno acquires a fervent love of language--and of primatologist Lydia Littlemore, with whom he develops a deep (and, yes, sexual) relationship until she falls ill. Comic relief comes in the form of Leon, a boisterous subway thespian, who introduces Bruno to the stage shortly before a murderous transgression results in Bruno’s return to captivity. With Bruno Littlemore, Hale has crafted a truly original narrator, holding a mirror on humanity with a razor-like precision that makes this stunning novel one readers will want to discuss the minute they turn the last page.--Seira Wilson --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
An enlightened chimp goes on the wildest adventure since Every Which Way but Loose in Hale's mischievous debut. Bruno Littlemore, the narrator chimp, eventually lands in a research lab at the University of Chicago, where he falls in love with Dr. Lydia Littlemore, who, shortly after hearing Bruno speak his name, takes him first to her apartment (sex is had, much later) and later to the quietude of a Colorado ranch owned by a couple of odd animal rights advocates. It is in this environment that Bruno becomes a fully articulate and artistic being, but the idyll does not last: Lydia falls ill, and Bruno is captured, escapes, ends up in New York City, and befriends a dreamer named Leon with whom he mounts a performance of The Tempest before being forced by circumstance to return, tragically, to Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. Bruno, having mastered speech, is quite happy to play with this new toy, going on philosophical riffs and speaking at length about art, and while his monologues are less tedious than you'd imagine, it's his quest for answers about the agonizing dilemmas of existence that is unexpectedly resonant. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Bruno is intelligent, witty, and quite arrogant--a wonderfully glorious combination. Bruno's voice is in sharp contrast to "Room" by Emma Donoghue, a novel with a child's narrative voice that was well received by critics and audiences in 2010. However, like that book, "Bruno Littlemore" transcends the narrative trickery to provide the reader with an emotional experience that you will remember long after you've finished the final pages.
P.S. There is monkey/human sex and monkey/frog sex. The former is love, and the latter you've probably seen video of on YouTube.
The novel is told from Bruno's perspective in the form of a transcribed recording of his autobiography (see, Lolita). Bruno is selected at a young age from a zoo for research and is transferred to a lab in Chicago. A young researcher, Lydia Littlemore, takes a special interest in Bruno and Bruno shortly reveals his ability to speak, or to learn to speak, honed by (of all people) an autistic night janitor.
As Bruno says, "A being acquires language because it is curious, because it yearns to participate in the perpetual reincarnation of the world. It is not just a trick of agreement. It is not a process of painting symbols over the faces of the raw materials of the cosmos. A being acquires language to carve out its own consciousness, its own active and reactive existence. A being screams because it is in pain, and it acquires language to communicate."
This is when the novel really takes off. As Bruno "evolves," he takes on the better and worse qualities of humankind: vanity, self-consciousness, morality. Bruno becomes human in as many ways as an ape can, to his benefit and detriment: he loves, he is loved; he suffers, he makes others suffer. Through Bruno, the novel asks many questions about the nature of man and animal, about language, about morality, and about love.
"There are two kinds of awe," Bruno says to Clever Hands, a chimp who can sign, "One is an awe at nature, and the other is awe at the wild irrational beauty of the mind. Are these awes in opposition to one another? Or are they, in some terrifying, spooky way, somehow connected?"
There are a lot of great moments like this: Bruno's time at the zoo, Bruno with Lydia in Chicago, the underground performance of The Tempest, the final confrontation. The novel as a whole is excellent, filled with humor, heartbreak, and intelligence.
To say that this is not a book for everyone would be a gross understatement. I knew going into this novel that Bruno and his human companion develop a sexual relationship. Somehow I was still shocked when it occurred. I am puzzled that this relationship developed at a time in Bruno's evolution when even the scientists admitted that he had the language skills of a two year old child. The relationship between Lydia and Bruno occurs at a time when Lydia is a mother figure and he is still being charmed by Sesame Street. The speed at which this relationship changed from pseudo mother/child to lovers left me flabbergasted and dismayed. I have read books where people do unfathomable things, but usually the author makes some effort to bring us into the heads of their characters so that we may better understand their actions. I did not feel this at all with Lydia. I did not understand her feelings, her motivations, or her actions. Unfortunately, this killed a lot of this story for me.
There's no doubt that Bruno's evolution is a fascinating read. The first two hundred pages or so that involved language acquisition were interesting and made for compelling reading. Bruno's obsessive descriptions of things in his environment were made more palatable by the author's beautiful writing. It was only later in the story that Bruno himself becomes rather caught up in his own pretentiousness that I began to dislike him and really wanted him to be quiet for a while.
The writing is wonderful, and the story brings to life many questions on the nature of humanity. The author set off on an ambitious project here, and unfortunately I think he only marginally succeeded. Parts of this book were very enjoyable and interesting, and parts left a bad taste in my mouth. It was an intellectual and morally challenging read, but ultimately not a very entertaining one. Hopefully the next time around the author will have honed his storytelling skills to a level to match his superb writing skills. I have no wish to ever revisit this one again. Not a recommend.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Book clocks in at about 585 pages and I read up to page 186 and....I couldn't care any more. It's just vanilla writing in my opinion.Read more