More months ago than I care to remember, back when I had a bit of spare time, I was offered the chance to do a short review on the Waterstones website for 'We bought a zoo', which I leapt at. If I'm honest it was a bit of a crap review so I thought, what with all the media hubbub over the upcoming film, I'd do the book some justice and write a proper review on it.
What I'd like to do first is say that I'm surprised that said upcoming fillm is a hollywoodised version with Matt Damon. Whilst I've got nothing against Mr Damon I really really feel that the story (a real life one) told in the book is a strong enough story to have not been shipped over to the States and repackaged as theirs.
My opinion is that the film will do well but could've done so much better if non americanised as at the moment the UK is receiving a lot of love from world audiences when it comes to films about Brits - The Kings Speech, Iron Lady, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the list goes on.
As it is I don't feel the 'zoo' at the center of the story is going to receive the attention that it could, simply because people will not know where the story originated. Had the film makers stuck with the original story then people would realise that the zoo is a real place that needs all the support it can get. But hey, what do I know about the film industry?
For those of you that haven't seen the trailer or even heard about it here's a brief synopsis of the book:
Benjamin Mee is a journalist living with his wife, two kids and lots of pets in a converted barn in France. A barn I should add that they took the time to renovate themselves. Benjamins family get in touch with him about an investment opportunity, if that's the right phrase, in the UK - A lovely big house on Darmoor. There is one drawback, it is part of a zoo and the zoo comes with the property. Meanwhile Benjamins wife, Katherine, is diagnosed with and has to fight Cancer.
The story unfolds around the purchase of the zoo and bringing it back into working order to make it ready for it's public reopening. All from a journalist with no experience of wild animals.
The book starts a little slowly, such is the way with life stories, but it is a good introduction to the main 'players' in the story. There is a lovely account of the village in France where the Mees live and this helps the reader understand the writer and some of his morals.
There were points in the book where I was in tears, brought about from laughing or crying, and the
parallel story of Katherine that runs throughout the book always brings the reader back down to earth with a heavy thump - at least it did with me.
The story really picks up in the zoo itself with the accounts of the animals, their houses and their keepers which highlights the need for visitors - to help fund the projects they are involved in worldwide.
I must admit that although I'm big into conservation I'm not really a 'big cat' fan, in that I feel we should be worrying about our own fragile habitats before helping overseas conservation. However, the way this book is written it really brings you close to the animals and I really started to get to like the bigger animals - especially their intelligence when being moved!
All in all, go out and read this book. If you see the film that is a bonus, hopefully some proceeds will go towards the zoo, and if you read the book then go visit the zoo - well you've gone one better than me, although I do plan on trying to visit when The Munchkin is big enough to understand the animals a bit better.