Just a quick post to review a book and a movie.
First, the book: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.
This was an okay book. I was more than a little disappointed in it, because I had heard such great things from others who’d read it.
It should have been a wonderful story, but, for whatever reason it lacked real emotion. The truest parts in the story take place in the nursing home where the elder Jacob recounts his tale of life in the early 1900’s working for a travelling circus.
The story has all the elements of a great story — love, betrayal, hardship, cruelty, mental illness, circus life, depression-era trials and tribulations, animals — it truly has it all. None of it, though, ever connected with me.
And, I think, after having a couple of discussions with other people who’ve read the book, the reason is that it was written with a screen option in mind. It doesn’t say that on the dust jacket, but while I was reading it I would come across a scene and immediately I’d think: Well, won’t that play out well on the screen.
Call me jaded, cynical, harsh, whatever you want, but I find this to be true with a lot of the books being written today. Anything popular, that is. It’s like the authors are giving us the outline of a story, they’re providing a bunch of scenes that are loosely connected, but they lack any real art.
I find it very difficult these days to find books that really grab me. Even The Hunger Games (which I recently reviewed), good as I thought they were, were obviously written with a movie in mind.
Gruen’s writing is solid, though I found it seemed to plod where it should have sung. For some reason I can’t fathom she chose to throw in various sordid sex scenes — usually portraying grotesque or deviant behaviour. These were rather jarring and other than acting as a contrast to the ‘pure’ love Jacob feels for Marlena, I couldn’t discern any reason for including them.
For me, this book, which should have been so full of life and emotion, fell flat. It began with an anti-climactic whimper; and ended on an absolutely improbable and ridiculous notion; it was, when all is said and done, about as second-rate as the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth was.
I’d rate this book: 2.5 stars
Now, for the movie: War Horse by Stephen Spielberg.
This is a lovely movie. I was afraid to see it because it deals with: war, and horses in war.
I did not want to see animals suffering; I just can’t stand that. And, I can’t stand movies about war — I can’t stand thinking of humans suffering.
So, usually, I do my best to avoid both those themes in movies, but, I had heard how good this movie was and had been assured that it wasn’t very graphically violent.
It isn’t. The worst part involves the Germans’ treatment of the horses, how they used them til they died in the hauling of heavy artillery. But, thankfully, that is a very small part of the movie. The British are shown as being far more compassionate towards the horses, but I think there just might be a little historical bias involved.
The hero of the story, a horse named Joey, is a ‘miraculous’ horse. He was raised and trained by a young English lad who treated him with kindness, intelligence and love. Those traits were imprinted on Joey and when he goes into service as a war-horse he continually demonstrates a depth of character that astounds all those (save the evil German in charge of getting the big guns up a steep hill so that he can shell the peaceful French community below) he comes in contact with.
While I was watching this movie I couldn’t help thinking of stories like The Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe. All great stories about the plight of much-loved animals who because of unfortunate circumstances suffer mightily before they finally find peace and protection with people who love them. It took me back to the days when I was a girl and couldn’t get enough of the Famous Dog or Famous Horse Stories compilations. (I used to make my mother crazy because I’d either be blubbering about the horrible treatment the animals I was reading about endured, or, I was wandering about enraged and fraught with righteous indignation because of it.)
I know this movie was a play before it was a movie, and you can easily see how it would play out on a stage. Whether or not a make-believe horse would have the same emotional wallop as a real one though is something I’d have to debate.
It’s a beautiful, heart-felt story, something big and lovely and innocent. It made me cry and it made me smile. What more can you ask from a good story?
I’d rate this movie: 4 stars