Book review: The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius

Sally Jones is a gorilla with a story. She runs a cargo ship with her human companion, Chief, and together they accept a delivery job from a stranger. When the pick up goes wrong and the cargo turns out to be dangerous, the Chief is attacked by an unknown assailant. He manages to escape with his life but is wrongly convicted of murder when his attacked goes missing. Desperate to clear her friend’s name, Sally Jones embarks on a series of adventures that see her flying aeroplanes, repairing accordions, and making new friends (and enemies) in the search of much needed evidence of the Chief’s innocence.

I didn’t immediately fall in love with Sally Jones and her adventurous tale. At first, I found her narrating voice a little stilted and difficult to read and put this down, at least in part, to the fact that I wasn’t reading the book in its native language. The text has been translated from the original Swedish by Peter Graves, and whilst it has obviously been very well done (there are no glaring errors or odd turns of phrase), I think it’s impossible to completely maintain the fluidity and tone of original writing post-translation. Then again, what do I know? I can’t read the Swedish version! As I read on, I realised that the overly proper language and lack of idiom fits Sally Jones’ (never just Sally!) personality perfectly and as I grew accustomed to the tone, it bothered me less and less.

The only other thing I found a bit difficult with The Murderer’s Ape also faded away as I got more engrossed in the action, but it did mean that I found myself pulled out of the narrative in confusion a couple of times. Sally Jones (as is probably pretty obvious from her name) is a lady gorilla. We are told repeatedly that she is a lady. I forgot repeatedly that she was a lady. Every time she wore a dress or was roped into doing something that only women can do (e.g. enter the harem), it felt wrong.

Now, the blame for this falls squarely on my shoulders; as soon as I saw the cover, and before I had read the blurb, I had decided that I was reading about a male gorilla. The book explains why the female gorilla would be wearing a man’s turban but it was already too late for me by then. Also, to be honest, gorillas are just always boys in my head. Just like chicks and baby deer are always girls. And vultures and crocodiles are always boys (Disney has a lot to answer for).

I am ashamed to say that it turns out that I am inherently sexist as I couldn’t help but think that Sally Jones’ voice is decidedly traditionally male; she has spent most of her life with sailors and men so thinks like them, she has advanced knowledge of machinery, and a Vulcan-like logic. The more I read, the more empowering I found it. Why can’t a girl/woman/gorilla be exactly like Sally Jones? I love that children will read The Murderer’s Ape and that some of the stereotypes that may have already creeped into their lives (girls play with dolls and boys play with tools) will be squashed…by a gorilla!

This is one of the most imaginative stories that I have read in a while, told in an innovative way. I love the introduction of different cultures and ways of life. I love the diversity of characters: rich, poor, Indian, European, human, animal. I love the realistic mix of good and bad news throughout the novel and the sense of hope we get at the end.

READ THIS BOOK – we can all learn something from Sally Jones and have a lot of fun while we do it!

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