Ape House by Sara Gruen

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.


18 thoughts on “Ape House by Sara Gruen”

  1. I almost picked this one up from the library this afternoon but I passed for some reason. I truly adored “Water for Elephants” and am totally afraid of being disappointed!

  2. I just reviewed this book, too! I had a different experience with the novel. I think people will enjoy it more if they keep in mind, this book is not Water for Elephants.

    1. yes you’re right, this is not Water for Elephants. My issue is that I have loved ALL of Sara Gruen’s books (including Riding Lessons and the sequel, can’t remember the name) and this one was just so disappointing compared to what I was used to reading from her.

  3. I know I’m in the minority here, but what you’re describing is exactly the reaction I had to Water for Elephants (absolutely cannot stop trying to call it Like Water for Elephants). The circus setting was cool but the characters bored me to tears, so I enjoyed the plot but was glad to see the book end.

    1. You know Jenny, I’ve seen a few other people feel the way you do about Water for Elephants. I personally loved the characters and thought the circus setting was super fun. The book actually made me cry, which not many books can do. I will say though that since you didn’t like that one, definitely don’t read Ape House! LOL

  4. I’m listening to this on audio and enjoying it, but I wouldn’t say I’m wowed. I’m probably the only blogger left who hasn’t read Gruen, so I’m glad to start with one of her less great novels and know I still have Water for Elephants to enjoy one day!

  5. Water for Elephants was fantastic, so I can see how it’s probably a tough act to follow. I’m a huge animal lover, so it bums me to hear that there aren’t that many adorable bonding scenarios with the monkeys throughout the entire book. Oh well, I have been in a hold line for Ape House for months, and my number is coming up any day now…

  6. I think I would want to like the apes more than the people, so this might not be such a bad thing for me! I still want to read it, regardless of how so many people seem to not like it.

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