by Christopher Nicholson
I found this a very interesting story, and the most convincing thing to me was the time setting. The awkward spelling and quaint turns of phrase, as well as descriptions of how people lived seemed to place it solidly in a previous century. I was rather appalled at the ignorance of most people, their cures for sick animals usually involved shoving disgusting concoctions down their throats or bleeding them. Most of the captive wild animals Tom encounters, in private collections or on display in the city's menagerie (lion, giraffe, monkey of some kind, etc) are in sorry condition and suffering. The descriptions of some of their treatment reminded me of Black Beauty.
There are a lot of unpleasant characters here, who try to harm the elephant, teasing her (and Tom as well), or just bullying them and using Tom and the elephant for their own ends. When Tom tries to stand up to bad treatment and misuse, he doesn't come off very well. He starts to withdraw from other people, finding the elephant his closest companion. Her character was drawn very well, and she felt more real to me as an animal character than the elephant in, say, Modoc. I was afraid at one point that Tom's affections for the elephant were going too far, and the book was going to veer into unforgivable territory like The Giraffe, but it didn't. The final chapter, which leaps into the future, was a bit strange and didn't really add credibility to the story for me, although that's what I felt it was probably supposed to do.
It had some interesting themes that I only started to pick up on later in the story, such as how do our expectations of what people will be, color the real impressions we have of them? how does our treatment of others shape our own character, and the comparison of the elephant's calm nature with the often violent and deceitful people around her was well done.
Rating: 3/5 298 pages, 2009
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