Book/Author: Ape House by Sara Gruen
Publisher/Year: Spiegel & Grau 2010 –an imprint of Random House
How I Got This Book: Sent to me by the publisher. I thank you so very much for it!
Why I read This: I devoured Water for Elephants so I had to pick this one up!
Rating: Between 3.5 stars & 4 stars
I will admit that the only reason I wanted to read this was because I enjoyed Water for Elephants by Gruen. That book was an easy five star book for me as it was filled with such evocative characters and portrayed the gritty life of the circus during the Depression-era. I wasn’t too thrilled with the subject matter when I read the description for Ape House but I vowed to give it a chance because I owed Gruen at least that considering what a pleasure Water for Elephants had been for me.
This thrilling novel centers around a passionate scientist whose life work is researching and working with bonobo apes and communicating with them by using ASL and a newspaper reporter whose life becomes connected to these apes as he works on a piece for the paper about them. An explosion in the lab, in an attempt to steal the apes, alters the lives and the work of each as they grapple with putting back the pieces of their personal lives and getting the apes back from those who are now exploiting them for a reality tv show.
I will admit that this book bored me for the first chapter. I thought it was going to be too heavily about the research of the bonobos but it definitely picked up and the things you learn about the bonobos ends up being fascinating! I am not, in general, an animal person so it takes a special book to elicit strong feelings towards an animal centered book. It’s not that I don’t like animals. I really do. It’s just that it takes some convincing for me to care about animals enough to read a whole book centered around them. Gruen’s passion for animals is evident in her work and I applaud her for her ability to deftly construct a compelling story, sprinkled with scientific research and contemporary issues– such as exploitation of animals, that demands me to care about the bonobos—things I’ve never given a thought to in my life. What is intriguing is that a lot of the interaction with the bonobos and the reporter John were constructed from her own experience being able to visit bonobos.
It’s never been her writing that has blown me away and this holds true for this novel as well. She writes well and in a way that is highly marketable for the average reader looking for a page turner with deeper themes and issues explored within the pages. I have to say that I was a little disappointed with some of the characters in this novel. Some of them seemed so flat and cliched for me and others were quite good characters that I found believable. I have to say that my favorite characters were the bonobos which is an interesting statement coming from someone who typically isn’t a big animal lover. I was really a fan of the animal characters in Water for Elephants. Gruen is able to tap into the innocence and mystique of these animals in a way that most authors cannot simply do and they become the shining stars of her novels.
These bonobos were more human than most of the characters in this book and I can’t tell if that was done purposefully. I think sometimes humans act more on animal impulses than anyone would like to admit. I think it is interesting that the bonobos were more loyal and displayed genuine emotions than most of the humans in this book.
One thing that irritated me a little bit was that some of the things that happened in this book seemed SO far fetched and over the top. I know that was needed to keep this book thrilling and to make sure you were on the edge of your seat but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention that. Sometimes the connections between some people seemed too contrived…”Oh, what a coincidence..this random person just HAPPENS to work for this person”..things along those lines.
My final thought: Despite the lack of stellar human characters and moments of being over the top, I’d recommend this book to readers who are looking for an entertaining story peppered with a moral commentary of some darker aspects of humanity and a bit of mystery. If you are an animal lover, I’d highly recommend this book to you, although you might be appalled at the treatment of animals but I’m assuming you already are so it won’t surprise you. If you are a fan of Water for Elephants and are wondering if you should read this, I’ll say yes, but preface it with the warning of NOT expecting Water for Elephants. For me, this novel had a lot to live up to and I don’t think it wowed me the same way but I enjoyed it nonetheless. If you are on the fence as to whether you think you’d like this, wait until it comes out in paperback or get it from the library.
An AWESOME video about Gruen and her experience with the apes:
*Bonobo image from www.PBS.org.
After thinking about this a little bit, I want to know if an author has ever moved you to care about an issue that you never thought about or knew about prior to reading their books!