I picked up this book from the bargain section of a store while I was in Ohio, I vaguely remember seeing the posters for the movie a while back so I had high hopes for the book. I realise that being made into a movie does not actually guarantee a good book to start with (ahem, Twilight) but you can sometimes find some hidden gems that way. I have not seen the movie so I cannot compare the two, but I found the book itself to be rather disappointing.
The main character and narrator, Jacob, is infatuated with the heroine Marlena, for no other reason than that she looks great in pink sequins. I myself found Marlena to be incredibly boring and the entire character could probably have been left out of the book and there would have been a far more interesting story.
That being said, there were some positive portions. A travelling circus during the prohibition/depression era is what kept me hooked. Jacob, a college dropout turned accidental veterinarian for the circus, had a fascinating way with the animals (most notably Rosie the elephant).
The story is actually narrated by 90 year old Jacob, a bitter old man looking back on his time spent with the circus. This guy I liked a lot. He was funny, though obviously bitter, and seemed to be the most well thought out character. I would love to know how the sweet Jacob being talked about became the crotchety man doing the talking, but I guess that is something we cannot know.
Overall, Water For Elephants is a quick read and is an interesting look at the real workings of a circus. Sara Gruen did not hold back when describing the abuses and behaviours that took place during life on the road, providing an accurate portrayal of circus life.