I’ve just now stayed up quite late to finish the latest book which happened to land on my book list called “We Bought a Zoo” by Benjamin Mee. I was sent the book directly from the publisher (free of charge!) in exchange for the promise of a review to be posted on LibraryThing. Here are my impressions:
I was sold on “We Bought a Zoo” from the moment I read the title. A huge animal lover, I also enjoy stories about people doing unusual things, so I was fully expecting to be indulged on both fronts. While to my great enjoyment there was plenty of talk about the various wild animals and what it’s like to handle them up close, I quickly ran into a couple of major issues that prevented me from enjoying the book as I had expected to. I found Benjamin Mee’s writing style was confusing and unstructured—surprising coming from a former journalist. Of course events do occur in a much more random way in real life than they do in fiction, but a certain lack of structure lead to repetitions and asides which would have best been left out. Because of the writing style—very casual, dry humour, a minimum of sentimentality and retelling of countless anecdotes—it occurred to me that the way these events were described would have seemed more suited to a blog format. But then again I may be biased as a compulsive blogger myself.
Beyond that I took issue with the secondary story line, which wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the book jacket or in the publisher’s literature. There was the main story about the purchase and work that needed to be done to the zoo—after months and years of constant decline, the infrastructure and the animals were in need of a great deal of interventions so that officials would consider Dartmoor Zoological Park fit for public viewing again—and that was the story I had signed on to read. But then there was also the heartbreaking story of his wife dying of brain cancer which, while being a question of human interest, at the risk of sounding insensitive, came as an unpleasant surprise. I would probably have read the book knowing about these sad events anyway, but I wasn’t expecting to read about this family tragedy in this context and had the unpleasant feeling that it had been sprung on me. I did keep on reading because I wanted to hear more about the animals and to find out how the story ends with so many odds stacked against Mee. I applaud all the hard work and efforts Benjamin Mee, his staff and family put in, feel I learned a great deal about zoo keeping, and my heart reaches out to Mee and the children for their loss, but I just wish the publisher had made full disclosure up front. This would have made for a much more pleasant reading experience. Granted “The Year We Bought a Zoo and My Wife Died” probably wouldn’t sell as many copies, but some kind of fair warning would have been appreciated by this early reviewer.