This book had tons of potential. Depression? Yes, please. Travelling American circuses of the 30s? Yes, please. The author is famous for loving and writing about animals, yet somehow this novel ends up being more romantic than anything else. And not even that catchy, you know, from one point onward it gets so predictable I basically kept on reading to see if my suppositions were right. They weren't. It's much, much cheesier. :)
Unfortunately, there's no style whatsoever, it's not like it could compensate for the other flaws. The story is catchy, at least to a point, but the two supposedly most important/dramatic episodes (Jacob trying to kill August and the animals stampede) were so unattractively written, I skipped them almost entirely. Even the frame seems a bit abused these days, but it suited the novel well in the end.
If I didn't like the characters much, I blame the author only, I feel she could have tried harder. I didn't like Marlena. Like even a bit. I didn't get what was so likeable about her, she doesn't do/say anything remarkable, she's so typically obeying, vulnerable and easy to manipulate she basically screams for Jacob to rescue her. Oh yeah, she's supposed to look hot in pink sequins.
Jacob is superficially portrayed, maybe because he narrates the story, we don't get much of what he thinks, he's young, inexperienced and impulsive, yet the whole circus adventure is supposed to be his greatest life experience. It is, it could have been, with a little help from Mrs. Gruen. Oh, I must admit, old Jacob is much more plausible/likeable/better written that young Jacob.
August, now that's different. Maybe she tried harder with him, like she created all these episodes that make his character more clear, I liked his mercurial personality, I think Christoph Waltz was an excellent choice for the film, though I didn't have the stomach for more than half of it.
What I did like, though, was that Gruen kept the story backstage, it's not about the glitzy glam of the circus, it's about the people and the animals. I also liked the real info she inserted in the story, like most of the elephant anecdotes and some other circus stories and the Jamaica ginger paralysis; I don't remember if redlighting people was a real thing or not.
If Goodreads had half stars, this would be a two and a half.
P.S. OMG, Is Robert Pattinson good in maybe one film?