Ape House (Paperback)
Spiegel & Grau, 9780385523226, 336pp.
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
September 2010 Indie Next List
— Sue Beale, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI
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The wildly entertaining new novel from the bestselling author of Water for Elephants.
Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn't understand people, but apes she gets—especially the bonobos Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena, who are capable of reason and communication through American Sign Language. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she's ever felt among humans—until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter writing a human interest feature. But when an explosion rocks the lab, John's piece turns into the story of a lifetime—and Isabel must connect with her own kind to save her family of apes from a new form of human exploitation.
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Praise For Ape House: A Novel…
“Propulsive...Gruen writes with the commercial breathlessness of a cozier Dan Brown.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Gruen delivers a tale that’s full of heart, hope, and compelling questions about who we really are.”—Redbook
“Animal lovers, gather ‘round...[Ape House] is much better [than Water for Elephants]—funny because of some weird characters and circumstances that make life difficult for our intrepid reporter, and at the same time, compelling because those apes put to shame our beloved Homo sapiens.”—Newark Star Ledger
“Part expose, part thriller, part gothic romance and part comedy and farce...Gruen is a master at the popular novel plot.”—Asheville Citizen Times
“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.”—New York Times Book Review
"[Ape House] hums along with a pop-culture plot full of slick profiteers, sleazy pornographers, idiotic reality TV and gossip rags — with botox and ape sex thrown in for entertaining reading.”—Des Moines Register
“Gruen has a knack for pacing and for creating distinctive animal characters. Scenes involving the bonobos are winsome without being sappy, and the reader comes to share Isabel’s concern for the animals.”—Boston Globe
"Gruen’s astute, wildly entertaining tale of interspecies connection is a novel of verve and conscience.”—Booklist (Starred review)
"Has the dramatic tension of a crime thriller...Twists and turns, lies, and treachery abound in this funny, clever, and perceptive story."—Library Journal (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
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- The bonobos in Ape House are described as matriarchal, with Bonzi acting as the nurturing and intelligent “undisputed leader” (p. 6) of the group. Discuss how Bonzi’s relationship with her family compares or contrasts with the various human characters’ relationships with their own families. Consider Amanda’s desire—and Ivanka’s—to have children in your discussion.
- What does the success of the show Ape House reveal about human society? Why do you think its audience finds it especially compelling? How does it compare to the other types of media discussed in the novel?
- Why is Isabel so attached to the bonobos? What does she enjoy about their company (and that of Stuart, her late fish) that other people do not offer her? What prevents her from connecting at the beginning, and how does that change by the end?
- Isabel says, “[The bonobos] know they’re bonobos and they know we’re human, but it doesn’t imply mastery, or superiority” (p. 10). The bonobos are clearly sentient animals, demonstrating the use of both language and tools, two criteria often cited as proof of the separation between humans and other primates. What, then, actually separates us from them?
- “At this moment, the story in his head was perfect. [John] also knew from experience that it would degenerate the second he started typing, because such was the nature of writing” (p. 215). John and Amanda are both writers who struggle to maintain integrity while making a living. Discuss the importance of writing, language, and creativity in the novel, as well as the compromises the characters are forced to accept.
- In Ape House, Sara Gruen uses humor to reveal the many flaws of human society. Is this device effective for revealing human foibles? Did you identify with her portrayal of human behavior?
- Which of the human characters in Ape House is most like a bonobo?
- Contrast the physical and emotional transformations of Isabel and Amanda. What are the reasons for their change? How does it affect both of them and their relationships with the other characters?
- Do you think the use of animals for research, even when it does not physically or emotionally harm them, is an inherent infringement upon the animal’s free will, as the ELL would argue? Or is there a way for animal-related research to be beneficial to human society while also protecting and respecting the animals’ rights? Discuss how Ape House explores the different sides of this issue.
- Over the course of the novel, John grows increasingly concerned about the possibility of having fathered a child with Ginette Pinegar, while Isabel doesn’t understand why a biological link to the boy should make a difference. For the bonobos, on the other hand, the concept of paternity is irrelevant. Discuss the way Ape House deals with family structures.
- Compare the bonobos’ behavior with that of the humans in the novel. Do you think of human behavior differently after reading the novel?