“The Elephant Keeper” by Christopher Nicholson

ElephantKeeperFrom the publisher’s website:

A poignant and magical story set in eighteenth-century England, The Elephant Keeper is the tale of two baby elephants and the young man who accidentally finds himself their guardian. Every reader who was enchanted by Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants or enthralled by When Elephants Weep will adore Nicholson’s The Elephant Keeper—a masterful blending of historical novel, coming-of-age tale, animal adventure, and love story.

Hmm… so if you “like books about elephants, you’ll love this”? Seems a bit simplistic…


We read this in August 2014  when ten people attended the meeting and most liked the book. Sallie thought it was enjoyable but rather sad, with lovely story telling. Eileen thought it was interesting and had to keep reminding herself that Jenny was an elephant. Barbara thought it a cross between Black Beauty and The Remains of the Day. Jade was also reminded of Black Beauty and loved the character of Jenny and the details of the time. Helen thought it a quirky enjoyable tale.

Many remarked on the similarities between the animals and mankind and the terrible treatment of both animals and ordinary people by the aristocratic and wealthy.

The book also attracted criticisms. Evan thought it had a horribly confused style and hated the characters of both Tom and the elephant Jenny. Margaret got fed up towards the end. Alan was feeling cryptic, suggesting that it would have been more interesting and rewarding for Tom if he’d fallen in love with a goat (?)

Overall, the book gained a reasonable average score of 6.3 (from 12 readers) with votes ranging from 4 to 8.


Comment elsewhere is generally favourable and most people pick up on the central role of Jenny the elephant. In the Independent, Jenny Bakewell writes:

“Jenny is a magnificent character, more vivid than the humans … she gives the book its weight, in every sense.”

Similarly, Emma Donoghue reviews the book in the Indpendent:

“Like the elephant at its centre, Nicholson’s book is gentle, profound and sweet-natured. If the first half is rather too discursive – including more measurements of parts of elephants than most readers will care to absorb – then by the second half, we find ourselves fascinated by a marriage like no other.”

From other blogs:

Kojitmal likes the calm and constant pace, which “feels as gentle as the nature of the elephants themselves”, but is not so sure about how the book gets “more and more weird” as Tom begins to obsess over the elephants, pushing everyone around him away.

Ellyn E. Hugus enjoys the book whilst finding the story rather dark in tone.

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