Review: Water for Elephants

Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants is an interesting story that’s well told.  I enjoyed reading it, and wanted to find out what happened to the characters.  The unusual setting is never offputting and adds flavor to the narrative. None of that is easy to do, and this is a well written novel.

I am not sure it is going to be a very memorable novel for me.  While I was engaged throughout, none of these characters captured my imagination or touched my heart.  I feel like everyone played their role well, but it all came out as a play, not an episode from life.

Some of that is probably the plotting.  The story certainly feels screenplay-ready, and there’s already been a movie made from it.  That is not damning in and of itself; well structured novels can be easy to adapt to the screen.  I did not come away from it with more than a well structured plot, though.

The characters are all engaging, but none of them has that telling detail that lifts them off the page.  They are all clearly painted enough, and have a personality and motivations.  What they do not have is the spark that moves from them being a collection of facts to a person moving through a world.

This sounds more critical than I intend it.  It is not easy to write a story that coheres as well as this one and that is as genuinely interesting to read.  There is still a hurdle beyond that, though, and Water for Elephants did not clear it for me.

Still, recommended.

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