Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Review: "The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore" by Benjamin Hale

"The thing that defines us rational precisely the fact that we're not always rational."

So says Bruno Littlemore, the narrator of Benjamin Hale's debut novel. Bruno is a chimpanzee, plucked from an ordinary life at the Lincoln Park Zoo by a researcher from the University of Chicago who discovers his above-average intelligence. As he develops a relationship with this researcher, Lydia Littlemore, he starts to feel more like a human than a chimp, and these feelings of privilege continue to grow as Lydia brings him home to live with her, indulges his desire to be an artist, and tries to teach him how to speak English. And that's not all...

Bruno recalls his story while being kept in an animal center, where he is spending the rest of his life as the result of a crime he committed. His adventures are intriguing but certainly make the reader uncomfortable, for as he advances his abilities to speak and read and paint, he can never completely lose his primate instincts. (And let's not discuss his primal instincts.) When a few of his outbursts cost Lydia her job, Bruno and Lydia flee to an animal sanctuary in Colorado for a few years before returning to Chicago, when everything goes strangely—and sadly—awry.

If you've read nothing about this book before, I am not going to spoil some of the more unrealistic and uncomfortable details of what happens, but suffice it to say you'll be intrigued and maybe even a little creeped out. I feel the story drags on far, far too long, and while Hale has a true gift for language, Bruno provides copious background information on everything, and descriptions of situations not quite relevant to the story go on for pages and pages and pages. There were many times I really wanted to stop reading the book but at the same time, was tremendously intrigued about what was going to happen. What The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore suffers from, in my opinion, is that while Bruno's life is interesting, the chimp who thinks he's a man isn't particularly likeable, and reading a nearly 600-page book about an unlikeable character is exhausting. But kudos to Benjamin Hale for one of the most creative books I've seen in quite some time.

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