Book review: Ape House

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ape house cover.jpg
I read a book! If you've been reading here long, you know how exciting that is. I used to be a huge reader, and in recent years, and especially recent months, I've just...stopped. I can't remember the last novel I read in one sitting. But this past week, on a plane from Atlanta to San Diego, I read Sara Gruen's Ape House. And I liked it a lot.

Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants, which is now a movie. I read Water for Elephants when it was new, in hardback, because I happened to pick it up at the library and was curious about the title. I love, love, loved it. So, when I was browsing at the airport Borders and saw her name on Ape House, I picked it up without even reading the back cover.

Ape House didn't move me in the way Water for Elephants did. It lacked the magical quality and the visual description wasn't as lush. I wasn't able to watch the scenes unfold in my imagination the same way. That said, it's a very good story and it was a fun read. The story is about a primate linguist and a reporter, both of whom are at difficult crossroads in their own lives, who meet by chance and work together in order to undercover a conspiracy that has removed six bonobos from a research facility and is exploiting them. The bonobos themselves are characters in the novel, though only through the eyes of the human characters (i.e. there is no attempt to get inside their heads as narrators), and they are compelling ones. The human protagonists, too, are sympathetic, particularly Isabel, the scientist. I had a bit of trouble relating to the journalist, John, early on, but warmed up to him as the book progressed.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book, for me, was the afterward, in which Sara Gruen briefly described the factual basis of some of the books events. Primate research is something I try very hard not to think about, because I find it too upsetting. However, reading a fictionalized account of some of the issues made it a little more bearable to think about. The afterward, however, drove the truth and seriousness of the issue right back home. It's heavy stuff.

Finally, a note on Sara Gruen. I looked at her bio on Amazon when I was finding a picture for this post, and learned she tried her hand at writing fiction when she was laid off from a technical writing job. I totally feel like she's a kindred spirit. She's got two other books besides Water for Elephants (2006) and Ape House (2011): Riding Lessons (2004) and Flying Changes (2005). I'll be buying those.


I liked Ape House better than Water for Elephants. I thought they were great. Maybe I will pick up the other two.

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