Almost two thousand reviews for Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and an average of 4.5 stars.
I listened to the book on CD, and wouldn't rate it as highly as the Amazon crowd did. In fact, I have to wonder how it came to be this beloved.
Let me backtrack. I thought the characterization was excellent, and the plot as well. A couple of things just deeply bothered me. The cruelty to animals, for example. I haven't buried my head in the sand; I know animal cruelty happens in environments such as circuses, and I believe bringing this to the surface is a good thing, if it results in an end to the injustice. But to listen to it read to me, to picture in my mind the horrors. That I can't stand.
The second thing – she killed off my favorite character. She built him up, drew him realistically, endeared him to my heart. Then she killed him. I know, real life and all that. It doesn't play favorites because a person is lovable. But nonetheless …
Listening to the audio CD may have been a mistake, too. Having the same character voice both the lead male and female characters is distracting. I could barely stand his take on Marlena. Why didn't they have a female voice her? Other books do. It wouldn't have been nearly as distracting as a disingenuous falsetto.
The story was a good one. The book on CD experience not so much. It felt long; at more than one point I considered giving it up – as much for the animal cruelty as the somewhat drawn out plot line. I didn't, though. I pushed on, and thought the ending sweet and well-deserved. Not realistic, but sweet.
Because of my experience with the audio CD, and the other reasons I mentioned, I can't rate it as highly as the average Amazon reader. Four stars, maybe, but not four and a half. A small difference that may seem, but it really isn't. A half point on such a small scale is significant. Trying not to judge the voice, this is the rating I'd give it. Judging the voice it would be lower. More along the lines of 3.5. Again, that half point difference means a lot.
Keep in mind the extreme animal cruelty if you read the book. And if you read the book, read the book. Unless it's impossible, I don't recommend the audio CD.
Definitely a book that will stay with me, and not in all good ways. Even for me it was depressing, and that says a lot. I love dark books, but the brutality in this one upset me. Still, a great story line.