The Jess Lomas Book Club: Water for Elephants

The Jess Lomas Book Club: Water for Elephants

*A weekly feature in which literary connoisseur Jess Lomas examines the upcoming book-to-film adaptations worth keeping an eye on!*

In what can only be described as a miracle, I have both read and seen this week’s book club selection. Okay I lie, I started reading the book – I even got half way through before I gave up on Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. “Give it a bit longer,” one friend urged. “It takes a while to get into,” said another. I figured that if I wasn’t hooked at the point where the book’s spine naturally gives way with ease (i.e. the middle) it just wasn’t going to work out for me.

In Gruen’s novel, young veterinarian student Jacob Jankowski abandons his studies at the final post after his parents are killed in an automobile accident … it’s a historic novel set in the Great Depression, so I can get away with using the word ‘automobile’. Finding himself broke and with no motivation to take his final exams, Jacob jumps a passing train only to discover come morning that he’s run away with the circus, literally.

While the circus is a major character in the story, the real focus is the love triangle between Jacob (Robert Pattinson), star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and her husband, circus owner August (Christoph Waltz). As the country hits on hard times the circus offers a breath of reprieve for those struggling to make ends meet, and it offers a home to those wandering folk in need of some work, a place to sleep and something to eat. As the relationship intensifies between Jacob and Marlena, and August battles to maintain control, his circus begins to unravel, and despite securing a star act in Rosie the elephant, it doesn’t take long before the magic and illusion of the circus begins to fall apart.

There’s something The Notebook and Water for Elephants have in common; they both have interesting stories set in the past bookended by incredibly clumsy, clichéd grandma and grandpa versions of the characters looking back fondly on yesteryear. In the case of Water for Elephants we meet Jacob as an older man, confined to a retirement home remembering that fateful night he jumped on board that train.

I suppose for fans of the book, director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese have given us a faithful adaptation of Gruen’s bestselling novel. Apart from combining two characters into one for the ease of the film – August was originally the head animal trainer and Uncle Al was the violent circus owner – it appears (from having read half the book) to be an adaptation readers would be happy with.

Considering the film is out in cinemas from this week, would I recommend holding off until the DVD release, or reading the book after you’ve seen the film? If you’re like me, once you’ve seen a film you find it incredibly hard to go back and read the novel afterwards; if you’re not like me, I’m very jealous, and suggest you watch or read the story in any order you see fit. I wouldn’t rush to read the novel before seeing the film however, for as beautiful as the film is to watch it is ultimately a bit of a letdown.

With a combination of average performances – Tai the elephant and Christoph Waltz being the exceptions – and a story that peaks far too early, the film takes what is an interesting time period and premise, and turns it into a surprisingly tedious and dull romp at the circus.

Discuss: I’d like to hear from someone who has read the entire book, for that often helps in forming well rounded opinions. Do you think the book to film adaptation was one fans of the book would be happy with? 

One Response to “The Jess Lomas Book Club: Water for Elephants”

  1. Jacob takes us through it all, how he falls for the beautiful married equestrian performer Marlena. Her schizophrenic husband August, the animal trainer, makes life quite interesting to say the least. Poor Jacob is often the butt of his insane outbursts. Uncle Al, who owns the circus and his complete disregard for the people and the animals is quite an eye opener.

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