Monday, June 20, 2011

Ape House by Sara Gruen

A lot of people liked Sara Gruen’s last book, Water for Elephants, but I didn’t have much success with it. I did better with Ape House and enjoyed it for the most part, though I do have a few quibbles.

Gruen knows how to move a story along at a nice pace but she’s not a great writer. This story, of a family of bonobos and their researcher/caretaker Isabel, held my interest and kept me entertained, but only because I like bonobos. I didn’t like Isabel nearly as much, or really any of the human characters. They were predictable types from central casting – give me one serious female scientist who doesn’t know how beautiful she is, give me an intrepid male journalist in pursuit of a story, give me an evil corporate villain who will stop at nothing to make a buck, etc. etc. I also didn’t think much of the plot which was part bonobo documentary, part animal rights terrorist thriller, part romance, and part sitcom. Gruen just tries to do way too much with only mixed success.

But the bonobos! Gruen does seem to get this part right, at least as far as I can tell. She has clearly done a lot of research and her portrayal of the individual bonobos is measured and nuanced. I loved reading about their language development and their relationships with Isabel and among each other.

I would call this a good beach read, not a category I usually give much credence to. (Any good book is a good beach read, no?) But if you want something to keep you entertained and you aren’t feeling very picky, this might be just the thing.

(Book 17, 2011)


shelley said...

Good point. I sometimes wonder if the vacuous characterizations in so many novels are rooted in the vacuous characterizations on so many TV shows (i.e., the difference between the complexity of the U.K. Life on Mars and the stereotypes of the U.S. version).

Anonymous said...

In real life the biggest danger to the Bonobos is the bushmeat trade. DRC is the centre for this and it threatens not just the two types of chimp but gorillas, okapis and other animals. Don't think that this is starving humans in the DRC desparate for meat, it is a business and the UK Customs authorities spend a good deal of their time trying to intercept bushmeat being brought in to the UK via Heathrow and Gatwick airports. The UK is a big market for bushmeat because so many Congolese and Africans from both East, West, and Central Africa are living there. Somehow we have to find ways to stamp out this horrible trade - let them eat cow, pig, lamb and chicken like the rest of us.

Unruly Reader said...

Your line "but only because I like bonobos" totally cracked me up. I know what you mean -- the humans in this book aren't *all that*.

Anonymous said...

true saaayy

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