Book Review: Ape House by Sara Gruen  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Ape House by Sara Gruen
ISBN: 9781741753974
Australian Pub.: October 2010
Edition: 1
Publisher: ALLEN & UNWIN
Imprint: ALLEN & UNWIN
Subject: Popular fiction
Edition Number: 1

Sara Gruen Availability: Currently unavailable from this website
Format: Paperback - C format
Pages: 320
AUD $32.99 inc. GST
An absorbing, heart-warming and ultimately uplifting story of how six bonobo apes change the lives of three humans, from master storyteller Sara Gruen, author of the international bestseller, Water for Elephants.


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 tears apart the lab, severely injuring Isabel and 'liberating' the apes to an unknown destination, 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 ape’s debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest-and most unlikely-phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-away food, play with their toys, 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 is a riveting, funny, compassionate, and, finally, deeply moving new novel in which a family of apes teaches us what it means to be human.

"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

About Sara Gruen

Sara is a Canadian-born dual citizen (Canadian and American) who moved to the States in 1999 for a technical writing job. When she was laid off two years later, instead of looking for another job, she decided to take a gamble on writing fiction full-time. Sara lives with her husband, three children, two dogs, four cats, two horses and a goat in North Carolina. Sara already has her eye on another horse and a donkey.


Prior to receiving a copy of Ape House to read, I had never read any of Sara Gruen’s previous books, so didn’t know quite what to expect. I found the elements of mystery and suspense to be woven seamlessly together in this novel. The book has a number of sub-plots running through the fibre of the book and wasn’t just a tale about the apes, or the story of their caretakers

Ape House tells the story of six bonobos, living at the Great Ape Language Lab. The bonobos are looked after by a staff of primatologists, including Isabel Duncan. As the title of the Lab suggests, the experiments are undertaken to see if the bonobos can learn American Sign Language and fully communicate their needs and desires with their caretakers. It was apparent that Gruen had researched bonobos and spent some brief time with them. She gave a factual basis and insight into bonobos' intelligence and social behaviour. Gruen details at great length the difference between bonobos and chimpanzees, both of which share over 98.7% of their DNA with the human race. While bonobos are always peaceful, loving, amorous, non-aggressive (including sexually) creatures (even when presented with human intervention designed to provoke aggression), chimpanzees are more prone to be territorial, aggressive, and violent. Gruen also outlines how bonobos are extremely human-like in their ability to analyse situations and build upon their language skills to hold two- way conversations, reason, remember and articulate thoughts.

This in-depth research allows Gruen to write part of the story from the ape’s point of view with great detail and conviction. Making the overall theme of the mistreatment of animals, even more upsetting and thought provoking.

This book was very original and a great concept to explore, which Gruen has done extremely well. I will be looking for her previous novels now to see if they were as good as this one.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:44 PM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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