It’s a cliche to say ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ but I’m afraid we all do. The original book cover for this novel is on the left and it appeals to me as it conveys intrigue, something a little vintage and there is a sense that this is a book of substance just with the words ‘a novel’ neatly printed after the title (yes, I’m a sucker for marketing).
Water for Elephants has now been made into a ‘major motion picture’ so the whole book cover has been given a revamp, complete with actors in soppy pose, an elephant to remind us it’s about elephants, twinkly lights and a random trapeze artist swinging about in the background (or is it a monkey? I can’t be sure).
It was this second version I was asked to read as part of the Love A Book online reading group initiated by Cara at Freckles Family so I was a bit ambivalent about it. If I’d been given the original book I would have lunged straight in. However, despite the lack of lunging, I was well and truly drawn into the unfolding drama from the first page.
It is a love story, set in a travelling circus during the Depression in America, but it is so much more than just the tale of two lovers. Very enlightening, a previously unknown world of circus life at a particular time in history is brought to life. We are shown the exhausting, perilous existence of those working behind the scenes, away from the glitter and sequins of the performers.
Jacob Jankowski, a young vet who hitches a ride on the circus train, tells the story from the confines of his nursing home. He is now a very old man, but the circus is in town and his memories are sparked.
The pace of the story, rattling along like the circus train itself, makes for an effortless read but that is in no way a criticism: the author chooses her words with such care and precision there is no need for unnecessary description. I felt it lost its way a little in the second half (but I may just have been tired and picked the wrong time to continue reading) but the ending was far better than I’d anticipated so I was left feeling very uplifted to the degree that I may well have cheered out loud.
I’m not really an animal lover, can’t think I’m much into circuses either but the vivid cast of characters, both human and animal, plus the excellent narrative by Sara Gruen, make this an unexpected pleasure to read. Give it a go this summer and transport yourself to the Big Top.