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The Elephant Keeper – Book Review

Only an Elephant. As if a creature as noble and brave as an Elephant, as fine and beautiful and intelligent as an Elephant, were worth no more than a common frog, or bird, or beetle, or rat. I gazed at her, the sack of carrots in my hand. ‘When you say she is only an Elephant, you mean that she does not matter, when weighed in the scales. She doe not matter, she is unimportant. But that is not what I believe.‘ – from The Elephant Keeper

Seventeen year old Tom meets two elephants one day on a wharf in England as they are unloaded from a ship. Both are near death and it is Tom who pulls them through. It will change his life. Tom names the elephants, a brother and sister, Timothy and Jenny. They take precedent in his life, cutting him off from developing romantic relationships, and dictating where he goes for all of his life.

The Elephant Keeper is the story of Tom, but moreso, the story of the elephants who fates were sealed when they were brought from India to England. The novel is a bit of a love story between two enormous beasts and their keeper.

Tom narrates the tale in several parts, the first of which is titled “The History of the Elephant,” while the latter parts read more like a journal. Christopher Nicholson captures the flavor of the eighteenth century in this novel through the voice of Tom who works for several noblemen in his job as elephant keeper.

The strength of the book is the elephants themselves, especially Jenny whose docile nature and love of Tom develops over the years and is heartwarming. Other characters are not so engaging. Tom himself felt a bit flat to me as a character, perhaps in part because he does not develop many relationships with others except for the elephants and his day is completely wrapped around their care. Because of this, the plot unfolds very slowly and some of the details felt a bit tedious to me.

I wanted to love this book and thought I would because I love books about animals and their special relationships with people. Unfortunately the slow pacing and laid-back plot did not hold my attention. Although some readers may like this one, it is not a novel I can recommend.

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FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the Library Thing Early Review Program.

5 Comments

  1. May 30, 2012    

    I’m not in the mood for tedious right now, so I probably won’t pick this up for a while.

  2. Amy Amy
    May 30, 2012    

    I’m sorry this book didn’t work for you. It sounds a little slow especially because Tom’s only relationships are with the elephants. I love animals and think it’s wonderful Tom rescued these elephants but the plot sounds thin if there even is one.

  3. May 30, 2012    

    It’s too bad that you didn’t love this one, as I have a particular fascination with elephants and think they are one of the smartest and most extraordinary animals on the planet. I might skip this one, but I did appreciate you being honest and telling it like it is!

  4. May 30, 2012    

    Yea, it fell a bit flat for me, too. My book club read this last month. We did learn a few things abt elephants we didn’t epect. And, I thought it cooll that in our next book (Cranford by E Gaskell), we have a mention of seeing an elephant in a menagerie in the same time period.

  5. June 2, 2012    

    Hm, it sounds interesting but by the sounds of your review, I think I’d find the book to be flat as well. It sounds like a good companion book to Water for Elephants though.

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