Friday, October 9, 2009

The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

The Elephant Keeper

Christopher Nicholson had not registered on my radar before this latest gentle, lumbering, big, and somehow soft narrative about two elephants who land at the docks in Bristol, England in the 1700's. The novel is not written like anything that came out of that era, thank goodness, but one gets a feeling of life stripped of its furious pace and all the unnecessary essentials we find so time consuming now. I laugh quietly to learn on the HarperCollins website that Nicholson is a Thomas Hardy fan because there are echoes. I expect the author also researched source materials to imagine what could have happened to the animals brought to England from Africa at the time, and the story lets us live closely with the animals for the first third of the book.

The book elicits a sad knowingness regarding the tragedy of ignorance about wild animals while celebrating the close bonds that can be formed by the animals with humans. We know so much more about wild animals now, it pains us to see the cruel mistreatments that were common fare then. This absolutely is a book valuable for all of us and teenagers, too, for it gently instructs in an interesting way. There is sex, but it is animal sex, for the most part, or is introduced that way. And anyway, I don't think we are trying to prevent teens from knowing about sex, are we? This book suggests when sex can be wrong and when it can be right, which is actually very helpful. Would be a good class reading selection, especially grades 10-12.

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