”True Friends Come in All Shapes and Sizes”
Genre: General fiction
Similar to: A Streetcat Named Bob, but with boring science thrown in
Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Fredrik Backman – it’s a similar style of writing
Publication date: 31st May 2018
Three words: Tiny. Pink. Elephants.
This book was not what I expected at all. I thought I’d get heartwarming magical realism, I actually got a clinical and scientific. Therefore, I thought there was only one way to review it*…
Elefant: An Analysis of Key Themes and Observed Effects on the Participant
By Lucinda Is Reading…
Elefant is a novel written by Martin Suter. For reasons unknown, it has become an international bestseller (Suter, 2018). The research aimed to analyse the key themes included within the novel and to explore the impact that these variables had on one participant (the reader). The reader recorded their thoughts and biological responses (emotions) to the novel and this qualitative data was explored in relation to the question “Is this book any good?”
Feedback was mixed and interpretation through a Likert scale resulted in an average score of three (It was ok).
Many years ago, I was given some maths homework to learn about coordinates or…something, where you had to mark each one one a grid, join them up and then colour in the picture they created. You were left with four images of elephants, which naturally I coloured in pink. The classes work got put on the wall, but mine was the only one that wasn’t grey and I rembember my maths teacher telling me “that’s good, elephants should be pink”. Twenty five years later, I still agree.
So when I found a book about a tiny pink elephant called Sabu that goes on a wild adventure I was expecting lovely exciting magical realism. My hypothesis was that I would thoroughly enjoy the book.
Elefant is the story of Sabu, a tiny, pink, glow in the dark elephant. She is spotted by Schoch, a homeless alcoholic who assumes she’s just a hallucination. But when Sabu is still there when he sobers up, Schoch realises that she needs to be cared for – and the adventure properly begins. We find out that Sabu was actually genetically engineered to be pink and glow in the dark but that a genetic mutation caused her to be so tiny. Following her escape, the company that made her want her back, so it’s up to Schoch to protect her. Cue living in a mansion, private jets, GPS trackers and a patently unrealistic romance.
The novel was read over a period of a week and all thoughts and feelings were recorded. This data will be discussed in full in the next chapter.
I thought that this book was a real mixed bag of positives and negatives. Based on a Likert scale of 1 (I did not like) to five (I really liked) I scored the following themes from highest (most positive) to lowest (most negative) thus:
- The characters (3/5)
- The the scientific research (3/5).
- The inclusion and representation of social and medical issues (3/5)
- The storyline (2/5).
- The writing style (2/5).
- The inclusion of moral overtones (2/5).
- The inclusion of a highly detailed explanation of elephant insemination, including the procedure for manually procuring elephant sperm (1/5).
1. The Characters
Sabu gets bonus points for being adorable – I’ll say it again – tiny pink elephant – but it was difficult to connect with some of the others. Schoch was interesting but for such a short novel there were quite a lot of people involved and so I found most of them to be pretty one dimensional.
2. The scientific research
Based on one episode of a Freakanomics podcast (Dubner, 2018), the science around CRISPR Cas appeared to be accurate, so points for that. However, I REALLY didn’t need to know so much about it. I find the whole area of genetic engineering fascinating but if rather read about it in a work of non fiction rather than having long boring passages thrown into a fiction novel.
3. The Representation of Alcoholism
For a book that was so rooted in science I felt that it should have been realistic in other areas too – particularly for social issues such as homelessness or alcoholism. Making Schoch stop drinking *clicks fingers* just like that with no counselling or support was a weird way to develop his character and didn’t sit well within the context of the narrative. I also thought that it minimised the issue.
4. The Storyline Itself
I expected something adorable, along the lines of Amelie. I got a low rent James Bond thriller with boring scientific explanations thrown in, plus quite a lot of pointless dialogue. I also thought elephant poo was featured far too heavily. STOP PICKING UP THE POO GUYS!
5. The Writing Style
I found the writing really cold, clinical and descriptive without being emotive. I have almost no idea what any of the characters were feeling which really didn’t work well with the storyline. I didn’t like the way that the story started in the middle then went back to the beginning because even though the chapters were dated (honestly, who can remember what date a novel started on) many of them just said “the same day” which is handy if you’re picking the book up again after not reading it for a while.
6. The Moral Overtones
I felt like the author thought “shit, everyone is going to be so on board with genetic engineering if they think they can get adorable pets out of it. I’d better chuck in a counter argument”. Honestly, I thought the whole thing was so bluntly shoved into one chapter (never to be mentioned again) that it felt quite jarring.
7. The Bad Sex
Call me old fashioned, but I didn’t need such detailed information about how to get sperm out of an elephant or how to get an embryo back inside one. Poor elephants.
I had such high hopes for Elefant but unfortunately I was really disappointed. I didn’t like the unemotive language, the structure of the novel, most of the characters, the inclusion of the technical science bits, the shoehorned in morality or the elephant prostate massage.
Especially the elephant prostate massage.
I liked hearing about Sabu and I did enjoy the ending but the rest of the novel was a bit humdrum.
Rating: Three happy endings out of five.
- Suter, M (2018) Elefant. 1st Edition, Harper Colins.
- Dubner, S (2018) Evolution Accelerated. Freakanomics podcast Series Seven, Episode Twenty. Broadcast 2nd May 2018.
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!
*Yes, I know I’m not supposed to write a report in the first person but writing it in the third person just didn’t scan well, ok?