I've been seeing this book, Water for Elephants, on my local bookstore's shelves for a while, but I never noticed that it had any sort of Canadian connection at all. In a Canadian bookstore, Canadian books, especially those that make the New York Times bestsellers list, will have a giant display with maple leaves and flashing red and white lights decorating it. Here in Japan though, it's just another English book. Imagine my surprise when I decided to partake in the Canadian Book Challenge and this showed up on the list. It's not set in Canada (although Canada shows up when they buy alcohol during Prohibition) but is by a Canadian author.
The good thing about being a NYT bestseller is that the book is actually available on Kindle. Yay! What I love about the Kindle is the instant availability of books. What I hate is that so few Canadian books are available. It can take months for Canadian books to arrive here. It's so nice to have a book at the click of a button.
I really enjoyed this book. I was initially hesitant because I hate circuses, and if this hadn't been one of the only Canadian books available on Kindle before I started the Readathon I would not have bought it. Lucky then that was the case!
This book flips between 1931 and the present day. Pre-war fiction is some of my favourite, so that was a step in the right direction. The train-hopping brought back memories of The Journey of Natty Gann, my favourite childhood movie, so another step towards enjoying it. But it was the imagery of the writing and the enjoyability of the circus characters, from Jacob's roommate and his dog, the prostitutes with hearts of gold, to the animals themselves, that brought this up to a 5-star for me.
I hate the idea of freak shows (I spend quite a bit of time being stared at in rural Japan, don't wish it on anyone!), I hate the idea of performing animals, and clowns creep me right out. So this book had a way to go to get me to even like it! I guess that's why it's a bestseller, right?
The protagonist is Jacob, a Cornell veterinary student who suffers a tragedy that pushes him out of the world of the intelligentsia and straight into the trains of the dispossessed during the Depression. He brings us into this new world just as ignorant as the reader, and introduces us to interesting characters and Marlena, the horse and elephant rider who becomes the object of his affections as he fights with the working men of the circus to end the tyranny of the two men who run it.
The characters were rich and some were likable and others were easy to hate. I'm not a big fan of adultery in fiction but the husband of the love interest was so horrible to his wife and others, including beating animals, that I can't blame her for looking elsewhere for love. What I really liked was the circus slang. It's almost too bad this is a one-off novel, this would have been really good as a world-building novel.
I know many people were put off by the Hollywood ending, but I'm happy that is was tied up so neatly. I still wish that some of the characters would have gotten better endings, but you can't have everything.
This is my fourth book for the Fifth Canadian Book Challenge.