Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: Ape House: A Novel by Sara Gruen

By the Author of "Water for Elephants"

A good book although completely different than her previous.

I chose this book simply because of who the author was. If you haven't read Water for Elephants, it a great immersing read and I highly recommend it. That being said, this is not Water for Elephants but was also engrossing.This book takes place in present time and tells the story of the intersecting lives of Isabel Duncan, a scientist working with bonobos (a species of Great Apes) and John, a reporter, as well as Bonzi, Jelani, Makena, Lola and Sam, the bonobos themselves who are capable of deep human like relationships and communicate with American Sign Language.

John meets Isabel and the bonobos when he visits the lab for a story and becomes immediately intrigued and impressed by what he sees. Soon after, unrelated, an explosion rocks the lab severely injuring Isabel and displaces the bonobos. An animal rights activist group claims responsibility and the story starts running. Isabel is more focused on the bonobos than her recovery and is desperate to find them. Others have different plans in mind for the Great Apes.

There are many secondary characters that are caught up in the story from both Isabel's and John's camps. The story is intriguing in terms of the fascinating abilities of these animals, and the people who would either like to learn more about them and interact with them, and those that would like to control them.

The writing itself does not have the lyrical and beautiful quality that I found with Water for Elephants, or the descriptive backdrops that set that stage. However, because this book takes place in present time, perhaps there is no need. I felt empathy for the characters in this book but did not feel that I knew them as intimately as those in her previous work. Again, maybe I didn't need to know them as well as they were all a backdrop for the bonobos and their actual plight.

It is evident that Sara Gruen loves animals and has a personal motivation to write about them so passionately. That came through in this novel. I think that if you judge this book completely on its own merits, and don't compare it to Water for Elephants, it is a good read. However, obviously that is hard to do, as I just spend this whole time comparing!

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