Ape House by Sara Gruen

I expected good things from Ape House by Sara Gruen but I was very disappointed with the story and the writing.

I was provided with the book by the publishers Allen and Unwin. I love almost everything Allen and Unwin publish, I think that choose wonderful books and authors to support. In fact, I had heard only wonderful things about Gruen's previous book, Water for Elephants, and so I was really pleased with the opportunity to review her latest.

This is the review I wrote for Allen and Unwin:

'When the Great Ape Language Lab is broken into and the resident bonobos are stolen to take part in a reality television program, an entire series of events is triggered that sweeps scientist Isabel Duncan and journalist John Thigpen off their feet and into a puzzle that must be solved before it is too late for the bonobos. Gruen is able to effectively entwine the stories of Isabel and John in a way that maintains the readers' interest and creates suspense. Ultimately, this book examines the issue of animal rights - how do we view other living creatures and how does this effect the way in which they are treated? Throughout the narrative Gruen explored these issues from the perspective of animal rights activists, scientists and the public, leaving the reader to form their own view on the role that we can play in environmental conservation. Ape House is an enjoyable and easy read that Gruen fans will love.'

Everything I said there is true. It was enjoyable if you call reading something light and easy enjoyable and I do think that Gruen fans will enjoy the book because they already have a relationship with the author.

My problems with the story were these. Firstly, the story itself was so far-fetched. Bonobo's being kidnapped from a scientific lab through an explosion, followed by becoming part of a reality television program that initially attracts a lot of attention but then slowly slides out of the public eye. It was just too crazy for me to suspend reality and accept that this might occur.

It didn't help that the characters were not well formed or authentic. The journalist fighting to maintain his career and personal life. The scientist obsessed with her charges. The evil scientist. The animal activists ready to save the day. The prostitutes living in a hotel room. The ego and money fueled television producer. It was all cliche and nothing original or interesting.

The interplay between the stories of Isabel and John did work, but it felt forced. Although there were moments where I experienced a desire to know what was happening, particularly when Gruen changed from one character to another at a point of climax, overall I felt as though I was reading it because I had to, not because I really cared.

Basically, I felt as though I was reading someone describing what they saw in a movie, rather than reading a story. There was no depth, no originality, no authenticity. I accept that Gruen does have experience with Bonobo apes, but to me none of this came across effectively in the book at all.

I wouldn't pick up another Gruen book after this one.


What kind of read is this?
Enjoyable in the sense of it being a quick, easy and light read; suitable for somwhere like the beach. Do not expect great characters, story or writing.

Do I recommend this book?
No. Not unless you really liked Gruen's fist book and you absolutely must give this one a go.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Please don't.

Star Rating

3 / 8

Couldn't get into it but I finished it because I felt like I should.

Have you read either Water for Elephants or Ape House? I would love to know if I was the only person who found this more than a little disappointing.

Lady Chatterley's Lover - an anniversary

"Since obscenity is the truth of our passion today, it is the only stuff of art - or almost the only stuff." - D.H. Lawrence

I read DH Lawrence's classic Lady Chatterley's Lover last year (read a review of it here), and was absolutely blown away by the story. It was emotional, is was poignant and above all.... it was raunchy. Here is an example of the raunchiness:

"...something in her quivered, and something in her spirit stiffened in resistance: stiffened from the terribly physical intimacy, and from the peculiar haste of his possession. And this time the sharp ecstasy of her own passion did not overcome her; she lay with her hands inert on his striving body, and do what she might, her spirit seemed to look on from the top of her head, and the butting of his haunches seemed ridiculous to her, and the sort of anxiety of his penis to come to its little evacuating crisis seemed farcical".
Anyone else feeling a bit hot? They don't write sex scenes like that anymore, that's for sure.

In any event, this book is about a lot more than good sex, but it was the sex that caused such controversy around the book that the publishers were sued for obscenity and the book was banned in many parts of the world.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the publishers of this book being acquitted from obscenity charges in relation to their publication of this book. The INTERNET WRITING WORKSHOP has a great article today outlining lots of interesting facts about Lady Chatterley's Lover and the legal challenge. Have a read of it here if you are interested.

Has anyone read this book? What did you think of it?

Page Turners 100th Book Review!

Page Turners has just posted its 100th review!

I know it isn't an anniversary as such, but it feels like a real milestone. My first review was in June 2009 and my most recent was published on the 2nd of November 2010, which I think is a fairly respectable amount of reviews.

My review skills and methods have definitely changed over time, but the enjoyment I get from thinking about the stories, the writing and the authors has never ceased.

Just for fun, I thought I would share a collection of some of my reviews with you. I know you probably won't read them all, but have a look at some if you get the chance. I am a little bit disappointed that of all my highlights, only one book is Australian (The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak which got 8 / 8 stars), but I hope that I can remedy that one day soon.

 My 100th Review

My First Review

Books that got 8 / 8 stars

So far, 10% (or 10 out of a 100, yes... i can do maths) of my reviews have received 8 / 8 on my personalised rating system which you can see in my side bar.

5 of those 10 books are Harry Potter novels. These are the other 5:

I couldn't recommend one over any other, except to say that perhaps of all of those books, The Vintner's Luck has the most unique content, By Night in Chile had the most unique writing, We Need to Talk About Kevin had by far the greatest emotional impact upon me and The Book Thief was just fabulous. Jane Austen... what is there to say that we don't already know.

Yet again, thanks for the support and comments over the last 100 book reviews!

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck; winner of the Pulitzer Prize 1932

 The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is a poignant tale about a farmer's connection to the land that sustains him. This story is reminder of how important it is to be true to ourselves and how despite our differences, we are all people and share common experiences and values.


"It was Wang Lung's marriage day."

The Good Earth is the story of Wang Lung, a man who begins life as a poor farmer in pre-evolutionary China. The story begins with his marriage to O-Lan, a woman of whom he is proud to call wife. Both appear fulfilled in their marriage, and work hard together as they work their land, raise their sons and survive the poverty that hits them during the big drought. Through their hard work and some luck, prosperity returns to the Wang family and although Wang Lung can consider his achievements with pride, ultimately it is in his land that he finds his final solace.

The beauty of The Good Earth, which was published in 1931, is that it provided the Western World with an insight into a culture that people did not understand, and did not make any real attempt to understand. US involvement in China was increasing in the early 20th Century, and so the glimpse of Chinese life that Buck was able to provide to Westerners had the potential to have a great influence over their views and attitudes towards the Chinese people.

Through the myriad of authentically depicted characters we learn about what it meant to be Chinese during this period of time. Integrity, reputation and hard work were valued above all else and filial piety seemed to be the cornerstone of most human relationships. Females were considered slaves whose role to produce sons and care for her family. This is not to say that women were not  valued for the role that they played in the lives of men. Wang Lung certainly appreciated and respected his wife, but he only considered her in the light of the role she played within his family. This passage particularly struck me as demonstrating Wang Lung's interest in his wife, but also his conventional approach to the roles of the sexes:
"Sometimes, working over the clods in the field, he would fall to pondering about her. What had she seen in those hundred courts? What had been her life, that life she never shared with him? He could make nothing of it. And then he was shamed of his own curiosity and of his interest in her. She was, after all, only a woman".
I know that many people would find this offensive, but it was the reality of the cultural life of people in China at these times. O-Lan lived this role as much as Wang Lung expected her to.

The essential role that filial piety played in family life was also apparent in many other aspects of their existence. Wang Lung supported his father until his death, as well as his Uncle and his family. Despite the complexities and difficulties of the latter, it was a necessity in order to maintain his reputation as a respectful man.

The reality is that sons were valued more than daughters, as daughters were only raised in order to serve another man and his family. Wang Lung and O-Lan certainly subscribed to this view. Wang Lung gave serious consideration to selling one of his daughters whilst they were in a time of great need. O-Lan killed her newborn daughter whilst in the depths of poverty. Whilst this may seem unimaginable to your or I today, her willingness to do so demonstrated the desperation of the times in which they were living, as well as the value that was placed on a daughters life as opposed to a son's. I have no doubt that as a harsh fact, if that child had been born a son it would not have suffered the same fate.

Through the Wang family's tribulations we are also exposed to the politics and economic reality of China at this time in history. Through all the droughts, floods and the subsequent human suffering, the Government plays no role at all in the lives of the peasants. Self-sufficiency was essential and the end to which all the peasants and farmers worked. Farmers lived off their land, but also utilised the market places to buy and sell goods and produce as required.

Self-sufficiency could not be possible if it weren't for the land, and bonds to the land and ancestral roots is another important theme of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.
"The earth lay rich and dark and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes. Sometimes they turned up a bit of brick, a splinter of wood. It was nothing. Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together - together - producing the fruit of this earth - speechless in their movement together."
It is through such wonderful imagery that Buck really displays how the land from which one which ones comes becomes a part of your sole; a force that compels you to return to honour your ancestors and the land that provided them and you with life.

It was Buck's depiction of the role that land and nature played in the lives and traditions of the Chinese people that I think really holds important lessons for us still. It was never to so clear to me that nature, like life, is truly cyclic in nature. You see the rise and fall of the river, the drought turn to abundance only to turn to flood and then abundance again. Nature has its own guiding force, acknowledged by the people through their Confucianism, and it is that force which must be respected for the life and death that it brings.

Part of the effectiveness of The Good Earth is the way in which Buck has written the story. Buck unfolds this third person narrative using sparse and simple language. The story seems to flow along naturally, which reflects the natural flows and ebbs of nature and human life that are so poignantly portrayed within the pages.

In the end, the traditions, values and land that have sustained Wang Lung throughout his life, begin to change at the hands of his sons which is in and of itself part of the cycle of human existence. In the end though, it is the land that has sustained him life that he returns to to be sustained in death.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is moving story full of hope, hard work and heart-break, and has many universal messages that will still resonate with readers today. I loved it.

This book is clearly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 1932, just as Pearl S. Buck is deserving of the Nobel Prize Prize in Literature 1938.


What kind of read is this?
It is content rich, and very moving and emotional. It is not a difficult read because the flow of the writing carries you along with the story, but it can at times be emotionally challenging.

Do I recommend this book?
Absolutely. This is a book that will hold meaning for all readers, including those in generations to come.

Do you recommend that I buy this book?
I do recommend that you buy this book. It is one that I feel you will find new detail and meaning in each re-reading.

Star Rating

7 / 8

Brilliant. Beautifully told and one I couldn't put down. I recommend that you buy it.

Have you read The Good Earth? I would love to hear what you thought, please leave a link to your review if you have. I have heard so many people say that they felt for O-Lan and disliked Wang Lung for his treatment of her - were you able to suspend your contemporary western values and see their relationship within its cultural and historical context? I admired both for the way in which they really lived their traditions with integrity.