The Elephant Keeper: Book summary and reviews of The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

The Elephant Keeper

By Christopher Nicholson

The Elephant Keeper
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2009,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

"I asked the sailor what an Elephant looked like; he replied that it was like nothing on earth."

In the middle of the 18th century, a ship docks at Bristol with an extraordinary cargo: two young elephants. Bought by a wealthy landowner, they are taken to his estate in the English countryside. A stable boy, Tom Page, is given the task of caring for them. The Elephant Keeper is Tom's account of his life with the elephants. As the years pass, and as they journey across England, his relationship with the female elephant deepens in a startling manner. Along the way they meet incredulity, distrust and tragedy, and it is only their understanding of each other that keeps them together.

Christopher Nicholson's charming and captivating novel explores notions of sexuality and violence, freedom and captivity, and the nature of story-telling -- but most of all it is the study of a profound and remarkable love between an elephant and a human being.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] charming first novel, told in Tom's tender, somewhat melancholic voice .... Throughout, Nicholson, with a light hand, explores questions of how and why we make choices, and contrasts our attitudes to life with that of animals." - The Independent (UK)

"Like the elephant at its centre, Nicholson's book is gentle, profound and sweet-natured." - The Guardian (UK)

"This is a wonderful feat of story-telling, remarkable for its ability to wrench your heart without resorting to easy sentimentality." - The Daily Mail (UK)

"Elephants may never forget, but Jenny, the elephant heroine at the heart of this tender novel, is simply unforgettable." - The Courier Mail

".... the elephant's legendary ability to 'never forget' is finally ours." - Publishers Weekly

"The 18th-century diction is convincing, but too much elephant lore, though engrossing in its own right, slows the pace." - Kirkus Reviews

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Diana G. (Elmhurst, IL)
The Elephant Keeper - two books in one
My reading of The Elephant Keeper found it to be two books in one. The first book is the story and the second book is the wonderful facts that are shared about elephants.

I did enjoy this book but felt misled by the cover. I was expecting a soft love story about an elephant keeper and his charges, which I found in the first half, but then the book took a turn to the dark when the lines in their relationships started to blur. Overall it was a good book told in an enjoyable narrative of the literal history of the elephant charges. I think if you enjoyed Modoc-The True Story of The Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived (my favorite elephant book), The Cowboy and His Elephant and/or When Elephants Weep, you’ll find this a fine addition to your elephant reading list.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Laura H. (Los Angeles, CA)
The Elephant Keeper
A fun, enjoyable light summer read - it's one of those books you could read in an afternoon. The main character and his animal companions are engaging and likable but many of the characters they interact with aren't fully fleshed out and come across as stereotypes. The writing is sometimes awkward as the author tries to get across the formality of 19th century speech and expressions.

What will keep you turning the pages is the well-structured plot and the fascinating elephant Jenny. If you love stories about the special connection between animals and the humans that really care about them, this is your book.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Deb Y. (Blanco, TX)
Enticing Elephants?
Who would have thought a novel about elephants would be worth reading? Not I, she said. However, I have to admit I was wrong, very wrong. I am a sucker for stories told in the first person (this time by the elephant keeper, not the elephants - hence, the name of the book) and this one was lovely. It is a book definitely worth your time - and it certainly won't be any trouble.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Joe S. (Murfreesboro,, TN)
The Elephant Keeper
I enjoyed this book very much. As a matter of fact, I started reading it the day I received it and couldn't put it down.It gives a very interesting picture of life in eighteenth century England and the lives of both the rich and their servants. The further into the book you get, the more it becomes apparent that it is a love story between a young man and an elephant. I highly recommend this book to reading groups.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Molly B. (Longmont, CO)
Good summer reading
This book is full of great information about the nature of elephants and humans, as well as life in 18th century England. Details about the care of elephants and horses in that era add to the interest of the story. The writing is as gentle as the souls of the two main characters, and the author subtly has the reader become a part of the connection between the two. The communication between elephant and boy is so natural and easy that I stopped in mid-book once, said to myself, "Wait, I'm not even questioning this?" and then continued reading with no doubt about it. I don't even think it was suspension of disbelief. By writing this book, Mr. Nicholson has done a great service to both elephants and readers.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Heather F. (Orlando, FL)
A Great Read
The Elephant Keeper is a wonderfully touching story that kept me rapt through the chapters. The relationship between Tom and the two elephants he cares for is portrayed very sensitively and with a great empathy that brings a real depth to the story. Although I did find the instances of elephant cruelty to be upsetting, overall. I found the story very well rounded. I enjoyed learning so much about the daily lives and habits of elephants, they are remarkable creatures that I have long been interested in. I also thought that the candid portrayal of eighteenth century life was rendered very well. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy animal stories and additionally to those who are searching for a great coming of age story.

...13 more reader reviews

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More Information

Christopher Nicholson read English at Cambridge University. He has been a community development worker in Cornwall, and a radio scriptwriter and producer in London. He lives in Dorset. A reading guide for the book is available here.

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