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4.2 out of 5 stars
76
The Elephant Keeper
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on 22 March 2010
Eighteenth-century stable-boy Tom is kind and gentle, but also (as far as his status as a servant allows) quite forthright and assertive. His acute awareness of human folly makes him increasingly prefer the company of elephants to his fellow men. Withdrawing more and more from society, as he focuses on looking after his charge, Jenny, his internal dialogues with her provide a touching insight into his loneliness, determined as he is to prioritise her needs over his own, in particular his yearning for a wife. His mental health declines, as regret and disillusionment begin to eat at him, and Jenny is all that keeps him going. (You realise that the novel's title is ambiguous, begging the question: Who is the keeper - Tom or the elephant?)

The problem was that my pleasure in reading this tender story, told in such a lovely, uplifting way, was somewhat spoiled by the unremittingly sombre mood of the final section. The direction it took was inevitable, but it was just a bit too relentless. Also, the final few pages (where the author takes over the narration) are distinctly odd, and felt overly sentimental. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful and highly original story, and so cleverly crafted that it reads as a credible piece of writing by a young man with a good brain but a limited formal education. Nicholson shrewdly avoids giving Tom a modern sensibility: he does and says things that might surprise us, but are very much in tune with his era. And good use is made of the research, with fascinating facts imparted in clever ways that avoid a sense of contrivance.

There are some interesting themes: the role that truth plays in our lives, and why we sometimes choose deceit or pretence; the exploitation and abuse inherent in the relationship between master and servant; and what it means to be a human being, in comparison with other animals. But these themes never weigh heavily on the reader, and there are frequent touches of humour. All in all, an excellent book, from a gifted author. (His debut novel, The Fattest Man in America, is also good: more limited in its storyline, but with a hugely (excuse pun!) congenial narrator and, again, some wonderful stuff about exploitation.)
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on 5 February 2018
It is an interesting read. lots of spelling mistakes
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on 16 March 2014
Great book, I am a massive bookworm so I love all books but I would definitely recommend this book to my friends and family.
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on 17 December 2014
This is the story of one of the first elephants to reach the UK and how it changed one young man's life.
It was interesting and endearing.
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on 24 June 2014
Very enjoyable. I liked the feeling of the to time & the main character. Overall charming & a little bit sad & disturbing reading how some people treated animals in this country at the time. Even though I knew.
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on 15 August 2016
Not a favourite.
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on 7 October 2013
I enjoyed this book. I kept asking myself whether it was a true story because it seemed so authentic. Still not sure!
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on 16 November 2013
Would I recommend this book to an elephant lover? Yes and no, as there are some heart rending moments, but these also reflect the the time in which the book is set. A rather fanciful but positive ending. Somehow the story grips the reader.
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on 14 July 2011
Had already listened to this on Radio 4 and loved it so much I wanted to read it for myself. I was not disappointed; it was great to read and remember what I had already heard.
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on 23 February 2009
A very enjoyable read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in human emotions especially
if they have an interest in animals and wildlife.
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