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Ape House [Paperback]

Sara Gruen
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 5 2011
Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships - but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.

Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn't understand people, but animals she gets - especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she's ever felt among humans… until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what's really going on inside.

When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and "liberating" the apes, John's human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he'll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest - and unlikeliest - phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.

Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen's place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

Product Description

Quill & Quire

Driven by a plot that defies convention, Sara Gruen’s Ape House is captivating. Her follow-up to the 2007 bestseller Water for Elephants is another story about animals, though its strikingly realized human characters turn out to be the main attraction.

Journalist John Thigpen, on assignment at a university language lab, is awed by his encounters with its resident bonobo apes. The bonobos communicate with people using sign language, convey complex ideas among themselves, and seem practically human in how they interact with the world. John is also struck by scientist Isabel Duncan, whose connection with the apes is so intense she considers them her family.

That family is torn apart, however, when an explosion destroys the lab the night after John’s visit. A radical animal rights group claims responsibility, Isabel is seriously injured, and the university quietly sells the bonobos to an anonymous buyer. Weeks later, when the animals appear on television as stars of a reality show called Ape House, John and Isabel begin working independently to uncover the truth behind the explosion and rescue the apes.

Gruen’s novel has resonance beyond its animal themes. She highlights the dismal state of American media – John’s job is under threat as the newspaper business crumbles, his colleagues resort to extremes to garner readership, and his wife is a literary novelist who finds herself writing for television in an era when a show about apes ordering pizza is considered the height of entertainment.

The story gets a bit crowded by the climax, but Gruen reins it in just in time. She deserves further credit for successfully integrating fact into her fiction: the language lab is based on an actual facility where the author did considerable research, but the science underlies the novel rather than overwhelming it.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Sara Gruen’s new novel Ape House will be certain to please fans of her wildly popular 2007 novel Water for Elephants...This is a satisfying, entertaining page-turner of a novel."
—Sacramento Book Review
Gruen’s astute, wildly entertaining tale of interspecies connection is a novel of verve and conscience.”
Booklist (starred review)

"Sara Gruen knows things - she knows them in her mind and in her heart. And, out of what she knows, she has created a true thriller that is addictive from its opening sentence. Devour it to find out what happens next, but also to learn remarkable and moving things about life on this planet. Very, very few novels can change the way you look at the world around you. This one does."
—Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife

"I read Ape House in one joyous breath. Ever an advocate for animals, Gruen brings them to life with the passion of a novelist and the accuracy of a scientist. She has already done more for bonobos than I could do in a lifetime. The novel is immaculately researched and lovingly crafted. If people fall in love with our forgotten, fascinating, endangered relative, it will be because of Ape House."
—Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake

"A terrific book . . . a page-turner written with flair, imagination and a sharp sense of irony."
--The Globe and Mail

"Gruen delivers a tale that's full of heart, hope, and compelling questions about who we really are."

"Gruen is clearly enjoying herself here. It is fun...the conceit of a household of language-endowed apes as the ne plus ultra of reality TV--leering humans greedy for profits and naughty thrills...apes who are at once innocent and more compassionate and dignified than the producers and the viewers--is terrific: an incisive piece of social commentary."
--The New York Times Book Review

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Sara Gruen: Ape House. Oct. 13 2013
By Hana
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is interesting, yet confusing, reading. First of all, the apes are much more pleasant and understandable than the main human characters.
Moreover I felt more and more disconcerted as I kept reading.
There were two reasons for my feelings: first, if the apes can communicate with people by ASL, like deaf children, then where is the difference between humans and other hominids? The question is even articulated in the reader's guide. The authoress quite correctly describes what it is like, but doesn't even hint that the difference is in the absence of grammar in the ape's speech, which deaf humans eventually develop in ASL.
Another problem was the strangeness of the main protagonists. John is the total servant of his spoiled wife, whose change happens too quickly and is too complete. He is also a do-gooder, who has not noticed that the mutual bank account was depleted.
Isabel I didn't understand at all. She is not approachable, unless you are an ape. She fancies John, and then suddenly, it is Gary. And everyone has had a bad childhood.
I liked the youngsters: the prostitutes, Russian or otherwise, and the green-haired teenage criminal.
When a writer deals with such an important topic, in which some scientific background is needed, then he/she owes more explanation to the readers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good book July 6 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bought this for my father, and he enjoyed it very much. Not quite as good as Water for Elephants, though!
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5.0 out of 5 stars loved this book March 6 2012
Yet another great book from Sara Gruen. A fascinating subject, with a wonderfully fast paced story woven around it. One of those books that I didn't want to end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing book for all the wrong reasons March 28 2011
Sara Gruen writes like a dream, but sadly I found this book disturbing for reasons not intended by the author. To compare this book with Jurassic Park might seem bizarre, but Ape House shares with that famous book and movie the same fundamental flaws. They both have a wonderful central idea, based in sound modern science, with the possibility for truly transformative fiction, but they are dressed up in trite and predictable plots and populated with flat, stereotypical characters. In Ape House, we have evil scientists, naive scientists, ignorant animal rights activists, crusading journalists, unethical journalists, and trashy television producers. The bonobos probably have less than 20% of the page time, and an unfortunate proportion of that is preoccupied with their prodigious sex lives. My dog communicates with me every day; the author wrapped her central theme in so much trash, that the intellect of the bonobos hardly seems more remarkable than a puppy asking to be let outside. What a missed opportunity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
Another story by the estimable author of 'Water For Elephants,' Sara Gruen, deserves a first class narrator, which is precisely what is found in Bill Boehmer. A seasoned stage and television actor he delivers an articulate, highly listenable reading.

There is a group of bonobos, Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani and Makena by name, who are living at a university's Great Ape Language Lab. Now, while all apes may be unique these bonobos truly are - not only can they reason and have meaningful relationships but they're also able to communicate by American Sign Language.

Isabel Duncan is a scientist at the Lab working with the bonobos. She is more than content at the Lab as she feels more comfortable with the bonobos than with other human beings. However tranquility is broken when there's an explosion seriously injuring Isabel. Further, the bonobos have vanished only to reappear starring in a reality television program, Ape House.

Prior to the explosion a newspaper reporter, John Thigpen, had been putting together a story about what was happening in the Lab. But the explosion followed by the humiliating exploitation of the bonobos changes everything not only for him but also for Isabel as the two join forces to bring the bonobos home.

A remarkable story.

- Gail Cooke
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3.0 out of 5 stars Nice Change Sept. 21 2011
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
'Ape House' is a light read that attempts to open the animal world to us by bringing the Bonobos Apes to life in an original way.

This is a story about a family of Bonobos, their caretaker scientist Isabel Duncan and a down to earth reporter John Thigpen. I will cover the plotting in a few words, it begins with the primate language laboratory being bombed and Isabel left badly injured, severe enough to end up in the trauma ward of the closest hospital. The Bonobos fall into the hands of a porn producer and are locked up in a house with cameras broadcasting their every move on cable television. Reporter John Thigpen covers the story while his personal life is on a down turn, his home life it is about to take a drastic change. The plotting gets meatier when Isabel is released from hospital and teams up with John to find out who targeted the laboratory, for what reason and what has happened to her family of apes.

The story explores in a far-fetched semi captivating manner, the issue of animal rights from the point of view of activists, scientists and the public. The plot takes a meandering course with a bit of action here and there mostly done by the humans, there are also subtle references to sexual activities amongst the apes and their unique methods of communication. I found this part satire and part morality driven tale was presented to us by a cast of lackluster and easily forgotten characters, maybe if the Bonobos had been given a greater role it would have left a more lasting impression. Unfortunately the book started strong just to peter out by the end, I was disappointed when the tale did not capture the apes' behaviour, gestures and emotions in a more detailed fashion.

Although the story was not what I had anticipated, I nevertheless enjoyed the change
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