Ape House: A Novel

Image of Ape House: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)
Release Date: 
April 4, 2011
Spiegel & Grau
Reviewed by: 

As Sara Gruen’s bestselling book Water for Elephants prepares for its debut on the big screen, Gruen once again grabs audiences with her fourth novel, a work of impeccable research and amazing heart based on the mysteries of the animal-human bond.

After extensive personal research and real life experiences, the author has created a path for readers to enter the world of the apes. Readers are welcomed into their sanctuary only to find their world may not differ so much from our own as one might think.

Isabel Duncan has dedicated the last eight years of her life to protecting, nurturing, and educating her family: a group of bonobos. These bonobos, apes relatively similar to chimpanzees and believed to be distant relatives to humans, can understand English and communicate through various linguistic methods including American Sign Language.

The animals and the research facility Isabel works for are her world and an essential key to new groundbreaking information that could lead to understanding the link between human and ape. Sadly catastrophic events take place that put everyone in grave danger—including the beloved bonobo family. Surrounded by people whom she once thought followed the same dream as she, Isabel now finds her trust broken and her family in turmoil. To save herself, to save her family and all that she holds dear, she must dig deep and learn secrets perhaps she might wish to have kept hidden even from herself.

Ape House is a book of relationships of varying degrees. It details with amazing clarity the relationships we have with each other through marriage, birth, or circumstance. With brutal honesty it lays bare the relationships we have with other species that share our planet and our treatment of the world around us. The novel also shines a light on how we may choose to make a positive or negative difference in our lifetimes in all of these respective relationships. It is a choice we make every day.

There is no denying there is a magic to Gruen’s writing of and about the apes in the way she connects them to us and makes them real—not as animals or even as characters in a book. They become truly real in every sense. We care for their fate. We know their names, likes, and behaviors. We know them as well as the character of Isabel herself.

However there is an imbalance in describing the power of this connection and in the majority of the writing conveying the plot and storyline in the novel. It would have been nice for that powerful spark to continue throughout an entire book, but credit must be given to a writer who can create it in the first place.

Gruen will raise awareness in these fellow creatures for each and every reader who picks up Ape House. It’s a wonderful contribution not only from a reader’s standpoint, but also from the point of view of an activist.