Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Review Summary: The characters were fascinating and their personal stories were moving, but the main character didn’t do much to advance the plot.
Left penniless after his parents’ death, Jacob Jankowski quickly fell in love with the two stars of the circus: the beautiful performer Marlena and the elephant Rosie. However, Marelena is already married and her husband is sometimes completely brutish to her and the circus animals. With the circus owner on his side, her husband is very dangerous and Jacob will have a hard time escaping with his life and those he loves.
I’ve heard wonderful things about Water for Elephants for years, but put off reading it largely because I worried about the amount of cruelty to animals I might find within its pages. There were a few really brutal bits, but they weren’t described graphically and weren’t too hard to get through. I’m kind of a softie about such things, so I’m guessing that this wouldn’t be enough to ruin the book for anyone else either.
The characters made me glad I had decided to take a risk and pick this book up. The author does an incredible job sounding like an old man telling you his life story and like a young man living it. She also created characters I began to care about deeply, making this a very emotionally engaging story.
While I loved these characters, I don’t think good characters are enough to carry a plot unless the main character experiences some personal growth and helps drive the plot. In this book, our main character Jacob was very passive. Throughout the book, he does next to nothing to change his own circumstances and the plot is driven entirely by external events. Just watching a character buffeted around by the world leaves me missing the sense of satisfaction I get when I see a character take charge of their circumstances. Obviously, this book has gotten a ton of praise and I’m sure a lot of people who like character driven novels will enjoy it more than I did.
Do you have a strong preference for a book in which the main character takes control of their own circumstances? Do you like character driven plots?