Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Ape House

Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher/Format: Spiegel & Grau (2010), advanced review copy 306 pages
Audio:  Books on Tape, 11 hours, 14 minutes
Narrator: Paul Boehmer
Characters: Isabel Duncan, John Thigpen; the Bonobos: Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena
Subject: Linguistic and cultural studies of great apes
Genre: fiction
Source: print: review copy from Publisher; audio - public library
Challenge: ARCs completed

This is the heartwarming story of six endearing Bonobo Apes, who are being nurtured and observed at the Great Ape Language Lab.  These primates are highly intelligent, able to communicate with humans using ASL (American Sign Language) and special computer programs.  They are engaging, charming, and pull the reader right into the story as they cavort, order cheeseburgers, watch movies, and engage in frequent sexual antics.  There are two human stories running at the same time, and it is here that I felt less interest.  Isabel Duncan, the linguist who is working with them is not an appealing character.  She comes across as whimpy and naive.  When the Bonobos are stolen during a raid following an explosion at the lab, Isabel is critically wounded and spends a large chunk of the book mending. She just doesn't come across as the major player she should have been.Her whole life leaves me with tons of where does she get all the money to just sit in a nice hotel for weeks on end when she's no longer working?

In the meantime, John Thigpen, a journalist who meets the Bonobos just hours before the explosion, has his own demons to chase.  His wife's career isn't going well, his mother-in-law is a royal pain in the sit-upon, and he is suddenly unemployed.  In his pursuit of HIS story (he still considers the story of the apes to be HIS) he has to deal with Russian exotic dancers, meth-lab heavies, idiot editors, and a series of close calls that reminded me of an episode of The Rockford Files.

The reader is subjected to a rather contrived tail of employment woes on the part of John and his wife all the while wondering what on earth happened to the Bonobos.  Isabel plays shrinking violet and allows herself to be maneuvered by a group of young computer hackers who all want to rescue the missing Apes. Thank goodness the youngsters are honorably motivated. The three stories eventually come together with a suitable ending for everyone, but I really had to wonder for a while if it would.  All in all, it's still an excellent read if only because one falls in love in the opening pages with these beautiful creatures and wants life to be good again for them in the end.

I both read and listened to this one, and in a rare departure for me, I vastly preferred the print edition.  This particular narrator did nothing for me.


  1. I liked this one too Tina, but not as much as Water for Elephants. I also listened and read this one and although the narrator wasn't the best, I thought he was fine.
    Thanks for the great review.

  2. whimpy and naive is not great for a major character.
    then there is the fact that animal characters always upset me. I don't mind bad things happen to humans in book, but I hate animals in

  3. I tried to read this book based on the fact that I loved Water for Elephants so much. I got about 130 pages in and simply gave up. I agree that the human stories were not that engaging and once the Bonobos were stolen and out of the picture I just lost interest. And I agree with Caite, once the story began to be about animal cruelty it was very hard for me to read. I guess it all boils down to the fact that I was not all that intereste inthe story.


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