Sunday, September 12, 2010

Review: Ape House

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.

14 comments:

sarahem said...

OMGSH! This book is taunting me!! I saw it at Target today but even at 30% off couldn't afford it. I'm dying to read it. Water for Elephants is one of my favorite books. I'm completely jealous that you got a signed ARC of Ape House. Sara Gruen is coming to my town for Ape House and I'm going to get a couple of books signed, which I'm really excited about.

Anyways, great review, now I'm even more excited to read it.

Best,
Sarah

Sandy Nawrot said...

Water for Elephants was a great book, so this one should have a pretty easy time of riding those coattails. I would have braved the long line for the autographed copy too! I am attracted to anything revolving around animals (apes are awesome to watch) so there is a good chance I will get my hands on this one at some point.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I also love books about any kinds of apes. Oh, but waiting 3 months to write a review - I myself would have to give up entirely! I think you did a great job!!!

bermudaonion said...

I'm kicking myself now. Sara Gruen was in Asheville last night and I talked about going but then got lazy. The book sounds really good to me!

Yvette said...

Souds great! Can't wait to pick it up!

reviewsbylola said...

I have been waiting to see reviews for Ape House. Yours is the first I have read and I am so glad you liked it!

Julie said...

I LOVED truly LOVED Water For Elephants but I'm not an Ape fan so this book has no draw for me whatsoever. I enjoyed her Riding Lessons as well.

I'll let others read this one. :)

justpeachy36 said...

I've heard quite a bit about this book. I'm looking forward to reading it. It's definitely on my wish list.

Beth Kephart said...

You might be interested in the last-page essay in the NYTBR this weekend about apes, language, scientists. I love the video she made to help introduce and promote this book.

S. Krishna said...

This sounds great, I can't believe I haven't gotten to it yet!! Hopefully soon....

Stacie said...

I saw it this last week and thought about buying it, but my TBR pile is too big right now. I'm curious, have you read other earlier Sara Gruen books, and are they as good as this one and Water for Elephants? I LOVED Water for Elephants and can't wait to see the movie version.

Meghan said...

I really enjoyed Water for Elephants but for some reason her new book has remained off my radar. I knew it was coming out, but not when or if it was any good. Clearly it is! I'll stick on my wishlist now. =)

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I enjoyed Water for Elephants. I browsed this one at Costco the other day, but couldn't get it. It does sound great.

Cipriano said...

Having just finished the book, I agree very much with your belated review. A wonderful, comedic, yet serious, book -- I enjoyed it more than Water For Elephants.
Cheers.