Book Review: Ape House by Sara Gruen

Title: Ape House
Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1444715996
Genre: Literary Fiction
PP: 320 pages
Price: $15.00
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This book inspired me to do something I haven’t done in a long (long) time. I stayed awake! Until 3 in the morning! I can’t remember the last time I did this, it’s been a while since a book has grabbed me like Ape House. In fact, I think the last one may have been Sara Gruen’s much applauded Water for Elephants. This woman just has a way of pulling me into a book that makes me never want to let go.

Anyway, the blurb would have you know that this “is an absorbing, heart-warming and ultimately uplifting tale of how six bonobo apes change the lives of three humans”. Isabel Duncan works as a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, a scientific research facility which examines language acquistion in primates. She clearly has a better rapport with the bonobos than with humans and she is devastated when the facility is blown up, allegedly by animal liberationists and her beloved animals end up being used in a particularly sick reality tv show named Ape House. John Thigpen is a down at heel journalist who finds the bonobo story fascinating. His fiancee, Amanda, is trying to carve a career as an author but she’s not handling the rejection letters very well. Throw in a briefly appearing green haired vegan, a pink haired animal rights supporter named Celia who becomes Isabel’s ally, some lapdancers, a salivating pit bull terrier named Booger and you have a extremely quirky backdrop. What ensues is a madcap race to save the bonobos with many plot twists and turns along the way.

Ape House is simply an amazing novel! It tells the story not so much of a group of individuals, but the story of a family who manage to influence everyone around them. These apes are awesome and I loved that Gruen let the bonobos be the center of everything, even while we were worrying over John’s crumbling world and Isabel’s injuries. The apes were there to give everyone something to love and to save. Actually, they gave the book its entire purpose! (Obviously…moving on…) I thought it was great that we got to see into their (the apes) lives and were even treated to glimpses of the strange human world from behind their eyes. I loved how much I learnt from this book! Gruen did a fantastic amount of research and I could definitely feel that coming through in the stories, the actions and the descriptions of the apes.

Alongside the apes we have Isabel and John. Now that I’ve had some time to think about their characters, I actually don’t think I actually liked either of them very much. They were nice, but they were just… a bit boring to be totally honest. Luckily, Gruen placed an eccentric and fun cast of supporting characters alongside these slightly bland protagonists. First, we have Isabel’s vivacious intern/research assistant Celia, who added some needed oomph to Isabel’s chapters and who I adored! She even comes armed with a group of nerd minions who were very entertaining. Then we have my favorite random character, John’s upstairs neighbour, Ivanka the Russain stripper who watches the opera singing meth lab dog while John was off doing some reporting… you’re intrigued now, aren’t ya?!

Final thoughts: Ape House kept me turning the pages into the early morning with a gripping and unique plot that my sleep muddled brain didn’t manage to work out until practically the last chapter! It’s one of those books that had me flipping the pages, desperate to find out how it would all end, and then made me mourn the loss of the characters for days. Can I go meet some signing apes now, pretty please? Overall, another great book from Sara Gruen and I would recommend it to everyone.

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