I picked up this book on a whim. I was looking for something easy with which to relax after my tumultuous ride with Denis Avey to Auschwitz and back (I am still reeling from that book!). Sara Gruen’s Ape House seemed like just the right sort of medicine.
I had read mixed reviews. Some thoroughly enjoyed this book, while others were dismayed at the wasted potential of the narrative and the triviality of the plot and characters. As a result, I had no expectations about this book and consequently I was quite surprised to find myself quite enjoying the quirky mix of heavy themes with seemingly frivolous action. In part, I agree with Ron Charles‘ criticism in The Washington Post: “Gruen investigated how apes learn human language and then inexplicably buried her discoveries under a silly thriller about a sad-sack journalist and a naive primate scientist.” However, I am more inclined to side with Jane Smiley who views this book in a gentler light: “Ape House is an ambitious novel in several ways, for which it is to be admired, and it is certainly an easy read, but because Gruen is not quite prepared for the philosophical implications of her subject, it is not as deeply involving emotionally or as interesting thematically as it could be.”
I really enjoyed the characters for all their flaws. I found tattooed Celia to be intriguing, I empathised with journalist John Thigpen and I loved the way that Gruen introduced a troop of prostitutes who become the key to catching the bad guys in this story.
I wouldn’t call this ground breaking fiction, but I certainly found it worth reading.