All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

We Bought A Zoo – Benjamin Mee

on May 18, 2013

Bought A ZooWe Bought A Zoo
Benjamin Mee
Harper Collins Publishers
2012 (originally 2008), 313p
Read from my TBR pile

When Benjamin Mee decided to uproot his wife and two children from their lives living in France, it was to move them to an even more unconventional situation. He and his family decided to pool their resources and buy a run down zoo in Devon, England with over 200 exotic animals on the premises. Although once a thriving business, a lack of attention to detail in recent years and the growing age of the owner meant that the park had been in a steady decline. Benjamin and his mother as well as several of his siblings decided that they could all breathe new life back into it.

His dream was to reburbish the zoo in the winter off season, fixing up all the things that needed doing and reopening for the bumper summer season. However even he underestimated just how much would need to be done and just how much it would cost and even worse, how hard getting finance would be. Over the time the family first looked at the zoo until they finally took possession, they were offered numerous loans by banks only to have them withdrawn. Selling the family home and pooling their inheritances allowed them to purchase the zoo and then they needed even more money to fix enclosures, do up the restaurant and take care of all the bits of pieces such as feeding the animals and paying the wages. They also needed to hunt down new staff, preferably with good connections in order to participate in trading programs with other zoos and prove how they were going to act in conservation in order to secure their license to exhibit. Without that it’s just a farm with a lot of exotic animals.

As well as the stress of getting the zoo ready to open, Benjamin also has personal stress and worry to deal with. His wife Katherine had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma (one of the most common and aggressive brain cancers) before they purchased the zoo and had surgery and chemotherapy which had been successful. However, as they were warned, these types of tumors always return and Katherine was no different. Benjamin faces living his dream but without the support and love of his courageous wife.

I first heard about this book when the movie was released – last year I think? I bought the book with a voucher that my husband gave me last year for Mother’s Day and finally read it this year on Mother’s Day. I thought it sounded like so many dreams come true – being able to buy your own zoo and live on the premises! But it sounded like an awful lot of work and with the likelihood of hemorrhaging money as well in the bargain. I have to admit that the story within these pages is not exactly what I was expecting.

For a start, there’s a lot of stuff about banks and finances and rules and regulations – which is fine, obviously there are strict rules before you can operate as a zoo, there are rules about enclosure size and herd size and what animals you can have with other animals and all of that sort of thing. There are rules about the structure of the enclosures and the veterinary rooms and the feeding and clearing of waste, etc. And obviously you need a lot of money to feed 200 animals and employ people to care for them. But what should’ve been a smaller part of the story seemed to take up far too much of the narrative. I was more interested in the actual animals – from the over 200, we’re only introduced to a handful. And although some of those anecdotes are amusing (like the time Benjamin’s brother runs into the house and yells “CODE RED! ONE OF THE BIG CATS HAS ESCAPED. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!” and then runs out again) there aren’t really enough of them. So much of the story is bogged down in rules and stuff that it leaves little time for getting to know the animals and getting a real feel for what it must be like to live with them.

Overall I expected more emotion and humanity from this book, whereas instead what I got was a very dry narrative that often rambled about all over the place with no real structure. I didn’t get the sense of what it was like living and working with these animals, fixing up their enclosures. Mee’s kids were rarely seen from or heard, only mentioned here or there, not really a contribution to the story when I would’ve expected them to feature much more, particularly around the time that Mee devotes to Katherine’s cancer returning. Although a writer/journalist by trade who writes articles, this skill hasn’t seemed to translate particularly well to writing a full length book. There are times when Mee mentions “more on that later” (one time in particular about his dog and possibly several other times as well) but then never goes back to finish what he started. Even his mother, who sells the family home and moves into this big house on the property with Mee and his family, barely rates a mention as well. If it wasn’t for her they would never have even been able to purchase the zoo but after that I’m not entirely sure what she does. Overall I think I’d liked more focus on the people and the animals and less on the red tape that it took to get there. I think it’s good to include that stuff so that the reader gets an idea of what had to be done but it seems to end up weighted that side which for me, just detracted from the whole experience. I’d still like to see the movie, even though I know that they changed a lot of the details, just to see how that compares.


Book #126 of 2013


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