Ape House by Sara Gruen
Published by Random House
Ape House begins with a bang – literally – when the Great Ape Language Lab, which houses bonobo apes, is bombed. The blast seriously shakes up the apes, injures researcher Isabel Duncan, and accomplishes the perpetrator’s goal: get the apes out of the lab. The perpetrators then sell the bonobos to a television network, where they become stars in a reality TV show. Isabel must do whatever she can to get the apes – who she considers her own family – back home.
The first forty or so pages of Ape House were so absolutely fantastic, I was completely hooked. Reading about how these apes understand spoken English and can communicate using American Sign Language was absolutely compelling and I fell in love with the apes instantly. And my heart broke for the apes when they were on the TV show – their needs weren’t being met, they clearly missed Isabel, and they were being taken advantage of by the network. It was really heartbreaking – I was definitely invested in their safe return.
Unfortunately, the best thing about Ape House was the apes themselves. As in, the people left much to be desired. The characters fell flat for me, and I require good characters if I am going to love a book. Isabel started out as a decent character, but she sort of became one-dimensional as the book went on. And I think Gruen’s shining feature is her ability to write about the animal/human connection, and as the apes were estranged from Isabel for much of the novel, that connection was noticeably absent throughout most of the book.
I’m not really sure what to conclude with here. I liked the book well enough, but it didn’t live up to my expectations since Sara Gruen is typically so much more fantastic than this. If you’re looking to try Sara Gruen’s work, definitely read Water for Elephants over Ape House, but if you’re already a fan of hers this one might be worth a try. I found the book worthwhile for the apes alone, but that didn’t make a stellar reading experience for me overall.