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?