Summary: Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships—but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.
Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets—especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans . . . until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.
When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest—and unlikeliest—phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.
Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen’s place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before. -- Spiegel & Grau
One of the highlights from BEA for me was receiving an autographed ARC of APE HOUSE by Sara Gruen. I think it was the only book that I actually waited in line for and it was also the last thing I did at BEA before heading back home! Of course, the line was unbelievably long, but I really, really wanted an autographed copy of the book. Like many of you, I adored WATER FOR ELEPHANTS; and I've been anxiously awaiting Ms. Gruen's next book.
I was so excited about this book that I decided to read it on my train ride back from NYC. I wasn't able to finish it during my ride, but I did the following day. Unfortunately that means that I waited 3 1/2 months to write my review -- probably not the smartest thing to do. I have to say that I really liked the book, but I'm not sure I thought it was quite a good as WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Having said that, I did think about this book for weeks after I completed it, and I still remember a great deal about it now. That definitely says something to me about how compelling I found this novel.
I admit that what most appealed to me about APE HOUSE (besides that it was written by Sara Gruen) is that the story centered about a family of bonobos -- and I love reading about apes! It seems like bonobos are the very popular in books right now (I know I've read a few recently); however, Ms. Gruen approached the subject matter in an entirely new way. In APE HOUSE, a bonobo family is mysteriously kidnapped from their laboratory and they become the stars of a reality television show. This novel examines the fallout from their abduction. It not only looks at how the apes are affected, but it also shows how the people involved in this story are affected as well.
I have to say that I thought the premise behind this novel was fantastic. As absurd as the idea of a reality show based on bonobos sounds, I felt as if the book was believable. However, I'm not even sure that it matters whether you buy the premise of this story because I think the overall messages about the animal world (and that includes humankind) are the beauty of this novel. As I read APE HOUSE, I couldn't help but think that animals often times have more "sense" than humans do. Even after I finished the novel, I found myself shaking my head at human nature and some of the behaviors that we exhibit.
I found the characters of Isabel and John to be extremely interesting and complex. I loved how both of them evolved throughout the novel and discovered things about themselves. Isabel finds that she fits in better with the animal world than fellow humans, while John is forced to examine his marriage as well as his motivations. I ended up liking both of these characters a great deal despite (or maybe because of) their human flaws.
APE HOUSE would make an ideal selection for book clubs. The story is entertaining, as are the characters, and there is a great deal to discuss. Of course, I'm pretty sure that part of your discussion will include analyzing the differences between humans and apes, but I also think Isabel and John are fascinating in their own right. There is a reading guide available which has some wonderful questions. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include human vs. animal behavior, friendships, romance, marriage, commitments, maternal instinct, parent/child relationships,the importance of language, animal rights, and all sorts of relationships.
I thoroughly enjoyed APE HOUSE and I highly recommend it to fans of Sara Gruen, animal lovers, or readers who enjoy books about human nature.