I started this book on the audio version, at first a bit turned off by the obvious attempt to make the narrator sound aged. On reflection, I simply wasn't a fan of the narrator, and that, plus an intriguing story line is what makes an audio book interesting for me. I can only listen to a book in the car, so if it can't block out traffic irritation for me, it isn't a good book. When I say this audio book didn't work for me, I mean that not only did the narrator irritate me, but so did traffic. It wasn't engrossing or distracting at all.
By the time I switched to the eBook, interest in this novel was on life support. I've found that while I read, I skip a lot. Too much detail? Skim. Boring dialog I don't care about? Skip. When I'm unable to skip past parts I don't feel like reading, I feel trapped by the author in the minutiae and I resent that. Once I picked up the eBook, I was able to read more quickly, pick up the story and get to the climax.
Water for Elephants is set in a Depression Era circus called the Banzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The RingMaster, Uncle Al and his right hand man, the Equestrian Director August, quite clearly want to be Ringling Brothers. They'll never measure up, but that doesn't stop them from trying. The main character, Jacob, ends up with the Banzini Brothers after he loses his parents, his future, and his home, all in one fell swoop. One moment a promising veterinarian with a promising practice waiting for him. The next, "roustabout" shoveling animal dung out of stalls.
When Big Al finds him stowing away, his Veterinary knowledge is his only saving grace. He's hired as the Circus Vet, to work with the animals, namely to check out the show's stars: Silver Star and her trainer, Marlena. It's obvous, right away, that Jacob has a "thing" for Marlena. Who is married to August.
Drama ensues, and becomes the crux of the entire story.
In between tales of life on the rails with the Circus are interspersed stories of Jacob in the future, in his 90's, reminiscing, remembering, regretting. He is long forgotten in a nursing home, resentful of the fact that he's living amongst those who aren't in their right minds. The highlight of Jacob's week is a visit to the local circus that's in town. He's been looking forward to it for days.
I checked a few other reviews, just to make sure that my analysis of the characters wasn't totally off. I liked Jacob, some. Not a whole lot, but I think that was more an issue with the narrator than anything. His naivete kept me biting my nails and his bravery came so late in the story that it was maddening. August was confusing... the revealing of his mental condition came too late, for me. I think it would have added to the plot if it had been revealed earlier in the story. I wasn't a fan of Marlena. Her characterization fell flat, to me. The convenience of her feelings seemed sudden and unexplained and her damsel-in-distress act didn't bring any feelings of sorrow or worry.
I did feel for the elephant, Rosie. She made me laugh and cry and cheer. Smart animal. Very smart animal.
In my rating, 5 stars is impeccable, 4 is very good, 3 is okay, average. This book scored a firm 2 for me. It wasn't awful. It wasn't really good, either.