After loving At The Water’s Edge and Water For Elephants I was delighted to discover that there was a third novel from Sara Gruen. After reading the blurb once again she managed to pique my interest. Ape House begins with Isabel and her family of bonobos, the smaller species of chimpanzee. They are part of a research facility that is working on the use of sign language as a means of communication with the bonobos. Everything goes wrong when animal rights protestors set the bonobos free and the apes are sold to smooth over the situation. Isabel is devastated and eventually the apes resurface on a reality TV show. What follows is Isabel trying to reunite with her ape family and John, a reporter who met the apes before the attack, trying to get the story and keep his career afloat.
This book has quite a fe negative reviews about the place. Most of these stem from the disappointment in realising that this is not the hard-hitting literary story that they imagined. And while the apes are the focus of all the action, they are not primary focus of the plot. The story mostly follows the actions of the people around them, those that are affected by they lives. Rather than being a heavy-handed story that pulls at your emotions, Gruen keeps it a light, enjoyable work of fiction. Personally I found it highly enjoyable, an easy read that I couldn’t put down and enjoyed every aspect of it.
This book does touch on some important issues relating to the rights of animals and how they are treated. You can’t escape the themes of animal experimentation and mistreatment at the hands of humans. Gruen does pay respect to these opinions and the reader will leave with a sense of disappointment with the human race underneath it all. You can tell she is an animal lover herself and some of the experiences described i the novel are ones she lived herself. Gruen studied hard to be invited to visit the Great Ape Trust, the real-life equivalent found in the book and relished her time meeting the apes. This book was well-researched and it shows within the story.
Ape House does mostly focus on Isabel and John over the course of the story. They are both great characters. Isabel with her incredible passion for the bonobos, her family. I loved the way this character introduced the ideas of how similar humans are to the bonobos but how their relationship with us is merely that we are similar and can communicate with each other, without an insinuation if mastery over each other. Something that humans are unable to do, we believe we are more intelligent than other life-forms and that, therefore, we are above them, they are mere animals. Isabel challenges that and her character is highly enjoyable to learn about. John is a completely different character. He is floundering in life. Both him and his wife are trying to keep their heads above water in their cut-throat careers. I enjoyed his point of view immensely and loved the way the novel followed. Comical at times with a host of vibrant peripheral characters. Characters that probably offended those that were after their literary masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong I adore heavy, emotional literature that tears up my soul leaving me shattered at the conclusion (A Little Life, I’m looking at you) but I do also enjoy something light and breezy and I felt this book was a great combination of the two.
Definitely give this book a go (minus the high expectations) particularly if you are a fan of Gruen. I have loved every one of her novels so far, each unique, each with a crazy story and each has touched my heart. Ape House was no different. In fact it taught me quite a bit about bonobos and other primates and I quite enjoyed the small snippets in the book from their perspective. I give Ape House four bonobos, the cheeky little monkeys!