Ape House – Sara Gruen

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Two Roads (17 Feb 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1444716018
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444716016
  • Having thoroughly enjoyed Sara Gruen’s previous novel Water for Elephants, I was eagerly anticipating Ape House, thinking it would paint an equally tender portrait of the bonobo apes and hopefully contain the same magical spark as its predecessor.  You’ve probably already  guessed that my expectations were not exactly met…indeed, in the midst of reading I found myself wondering if Ape House was written by the same author.

    Anyway, the blurb would have you know that this “is an absorbing, heart-warming and ultimately uplifting tale of how six bonobo apes change the lives of three humans”.   Isabel Duncan works as a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, a scientific research facility which examines language acquistion in primates.   She clearly has a better rapport with the bonobos than with humans and she is devastated when the facility is blown up, allegedly by animal liberationists and her beloved animals end up being used in a particularly sick reality tv show named Ape House.  John Thigpen is a down at heel journalist who finds the bonobo story fascinating.  His fiancee, Amanda, is trying to carve a career as an author but she’s not handling the rejection letters very well.  Throw in a briefly appearing green haired vegan, a pink  haired animal rights supporter named Celia who becomes Isabel’s ally, some lapdancers, a salivating pit bull terrier named Booger and you have a extremely quirky backdrop.  What ensues is a madcap race to save the bonobos with many plot twists and turns along the way.

    Yes, this is a different novel to Water for Elephants and deserves to be judged on its own merits but unfortunately it just didn’t work for me.  I don’t need likeable characters for an enjoyable reading experience, they just need to stir some sort of emotion within me.   I didn’t really care what happened to any of the humans as they seemed so superficial - ironically the only characters I had any kind of feeling for were the bonobo apes and they appear so infrequently it was frustrating.

    So, a disappointing read for me, probably because my expectations were so high – it’s not a bad read, just not what it says on the tin/cover/blurb…

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    1. Water for Elephants was so good, it’s a shame this didn’t live up to it.

    2. admin says:

      Annabel, I think a lot of my enjoyment of WFE hinged on the magical world of the circus life and the more developed characters, especially the elephant!

    3. Violet says:

      Huh! Books about animals exploited as entertainment for humans! You can tell I’m an animal rights advocate. :) I’ve not read either of these. I did hear a lot of good things about WFE, but I didn’t believe them. :)

    4. admin says:

      Violet, it would have been interesting if the book had been more about the way they bonobo apes can communicate – would have been a lot more interesting than the shallow human characters…

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