Ape House by Sara Gruen
|Ape House by Sara Gruen|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: Funny, provoking and moving. Once I started reading this I really didn't want to stop.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: September 2011|
|Publisher: Two Roads|
|External links: Author's website|
Isabel Duncan is a scientist working with Bonobo chimps, teaching them sign language. John Thigpen is a journalist who comes to meet the apes and write a story about Isabel's work with them. He is moved by the apes, by their behaviour and Isabel's obviously very close relationship with them. Soon after he leaves, however, there is a bomb at the centre by a group of extremists who want to liberate the apes. Isabel begins a desperate hunt to try and discover where they've gone, and John finds himself also caught up, trying to discover the truth of what's happened.
It's very hard to describe this book in a way that makes it sound as wonderful as it is. When I read the back cover blurb about apes being liberated I wasn't exactly inspired, but still, once I started reading I found there was something rather special about the story. I have always been fascinated by sign language, and by the studies done by scientists who have taught apes and other animals to understand it and even 'speak' it themselves. So from that point of view I found the book very interesting. Indeed, the family of chimps were probably my favourite characters in the story and I loved the interaction between them. I was concerned that the book might slip into a diatribe against animal testing and experiments with animals, and although some aspects of the cruelty towards animals are covered and are indeed horrifically shocking, the book doesn't dwell on that.
There's actually a lot in the story about the media; about different journalistic methods and styles of reporting as well as the phenomenon in recent years of reality TV and the public's appetites for that. The apes end up in a reality TV show in the story, and whilst their manipulation is shocking what is also upsetting is the fact that you can see exactly how this could end up on TV and the parallels of how TV producers use humans, the way the apes are used in the book, to create their rating-grabbing TV shows too.
The style occasionally feels a little mixed up, slipping from journalistic to drama to quirky comedy. But the story moves at such a pace that it doesn't affect the reading of it too much. I thought the comedy aspects helped to lighten the tone of what otherwise might have been quite a dry and disturbing story, and all the very different characters work well together on the page. You're willing Isabel to discover the truth as you read along and although I was a little unsure of John's relationship with his wife at times and where the writer might be heading with that I still invested in him as a character, hopeful that he would be able to help Isabel get back to her ape family as well as resolve his own personal issues.
This was one of those books where I found myself going upstairs to put some washing away and then sitting down 'just for five minutes' to read another chapter! It's a very addictive read, so allow yourself the time to read it in large chunks. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: You might also be interested in Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
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