Post written by guest blogger Michelle Beebower
Spoiler alert. If you have not read these books, please don’t read this blog. It will just ruin them for you, I promise. Also, a note on my biases: I am a youth librarian and I generally only read books for children and teens. It is possible that I might be biased against books about old people. When I do read adult books, I usually read genre fiction- romance, fantasy and science fiction, so I was very happy to get to read and battle it out between two romantic books (or so I thought).
Of the two books, Water for Elephants probably qualifies more as a “romance” since the central couple actually ends up together and they are happy for many years. Nevertheless, despite their happiness, I really think the title should be Train of Circus Terrors bookended by the Horrors of Old Age. I understand why they didn’t call it that though, because who would want to read that book?!?
The story is told from the point of view of male protagonist when he is 80 or 90 wasting away at a nursing home where he is miserable, his beloved wife is dead, his body and mind are starting to go, no one listens to him and his children barely remember to visit. I mean, what is the point of fighting your way through life if this is how it ends? This is why I read young adult novels, people! Back to the Train of Circus Terrors, when the protagonist was a young man, he leaves Veterinarian school two weeks before graduating after his parents die in a car accident. He is left with nothing and nowhere to go. He tries to go back and take his last final, but freaks out and instead hops a train to anywhere, which happens to be a circus train. I will say all of the historical circus information was fascinating; however, it was also super scary and depressing! Often if the workers were sick or if the circus couldn’t afford to pay them, they would get THROWN OFF THE TRAIN during the night! They did not slow down to do this! The animals were beaten and treated abominably. Actually, that was true for the people too. Our hero makes the mistake of falling in love with the animal trainer’s (his boss) wife. The animal trainer is insanely violent so you’re worried at every step of the way he will kill them both. Let’s just say it’s a harrowing train ride that ends happily with the trainer dead and the circus destroyed. And somehow our happy couple survives and lives happily for decades (we don’t get to see this part) until he ends up sad and alone at the nursing home, only to run away to the circus again at the end. Yay!?
In contrast, in Dodie Smith’s book, I Capture the Castle every single word is a delight to read (you know, until the end when you realize it is not a romance after all and you suffer the heartbreak of disappointment). I realize that it is generally accepted that a book without conflict is boring and horrible. But since I think life can often be horrible when I read I want to escape to cozy wonderfulness. And this book was definitely wonderfully cozy. The seventeen-year-old narrator is utterly charming.
I loved how (most) of the family loved living in this crazy castle even though they were dreadfully poor. How lucky for them that they didn’t have to pay rent for years! And how crazy to let your kind-of-servant/kind-of-adoptee hire out and support you, poor guy. There were many things not to like- especially the money grubbing sister, but I think the humor carries the book. I mean how can you beat wearing a fur coat and being mistaken for a bear while your love interest(s) chase you through the countryside with rifles? And locking your lazy, writer’s blocked father in a dungeon until he starts writing again? Brilliant!
But alas, the ending where Rose runs off with the other brother…ok, I mean we knew she didn’t love her fiancé and that Cassandra did, but I still would liked to have seen more of that love story. And then the author gives us a little tease... Cassandra could have had Simon in the end… but it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen folks. Argh! Not a romance at all! I mean I get it, she was still very young and more importantly, he only kind of wanted her by default, which no one wants that. And really, I can admit I wanted her to end up with the awesome servant guy turned movie actor all along? It just hurt me that her story wasn’t tied up in a happy bow at the end. I hope to find out soon there’s a sequel with more of her story!
And so even though, I was disappointed with the ending, I Capture the Castle wins this round for the pure joy of reading experience.