(Yes, I need a picture with glasses to help convince you all of my intelligence!)
I definitely didn't expect to get as carried away with 'Water for Elephants' as I did. Having seen the film, I thought I would have the plot down and knew what to expect. Well, I didn't! The novel starts with the experiences and thoughts of elderly Jakob, whose sharp mind contrasts intensely with his failing body. It reminded me so much of how my late nanna felt about going into a home that I found the opening extremely poignant and quite hard-hitting.
When my nanna finally went into a home, she was 93 and couldn't cope any more - much like Jakob. It wasn't possible (or her choice) to move in with either my mum or her uncle, so to the home it was. She was, until the day she died, as sharp as a tack. More than that, she was from a generation closer to Jakob's than maybe I can understand. She, like him, hated the food, refused to socialise with other residents and could be quite blunt with the nursing staff. In short, reading about the fictional experience of Jakob, allowed me to understand more what my nan was dealing with. The first person narrative really aided this experience.
I have read the whole book (I devour books so don't feel ANY pressure to keep up) and see how his frustrations at being treated like a 'vegetable' grow, while he deals himself with the realities of ageing. I feel the topic was dealt with sensitively. Jakob isn't another 'grumpy old man' stereotype but a human going through massive changes. It appears to me that being old, is in many ways, simply as hard, if not harder than growing up. This is where the film fails to truely represent the novel. Too much of the screen version was carried out in the future, in the glamourous and adventurous stories of the circus, when about 50% of the novel appears to be about growing old.
This topic is quite dear to me. Two weeks before my 31st birthday the inevitable review of my life so far has started. I am acutely aware that I don't want to waste a minute, not least because there are people out there everyday for whom the option of growing old has been taken away from them. It reminded me that, with luck, one day I will be an old lady whose experiences and intelligence could be demeaned in the ways that Jakob's are. We hear, through Jakob's disgust at the other residents, how fear of growing old distances the younger, more astute from the older and dependent. When he is surprised that Rosemary, a nurse, "actually (looks) at (him) as a person", it is apparent that society seems to be getting an awful lot wrong with their elderly care. I was pleased to see her redeam herself as I read on; it gives hope that we can all change our attitudes to those around us who are aged and frail.
In the first chapter, Jakob says he first noticed the signs of aging from 35. This terrified me. The following phrase rang through my mind long into the novel:
"But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen. It's a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you're not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, or course, but it's decades before you admit it."
Am I ready to admit that I could be reacing the mid-way point of my life? After all, even with all of the medical care in the world, people I know have died way before their time. Am I living my life as if any moment it could be taken away? Or am I playing it safe? Am I more frightened by the idea of reaching old age with a series of safe choices or that I might not make it that far at all?
As with any book worth reading - I seem to have more questions to ask about my own life than answers for myself. All I know is that I have the priviledge to live until 93, that I am going to have a story in my heart like this one. I just need to find my circus.
Can't wait to read what you thought.