Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
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This thread is for discussion of Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, the only novel selected for both the 2011 Booker Prize longlist and the 2011 Orange Prize longlist.
Just picked up the book from the library. The cover notes sound fascinating...though there seems to be a hint of The Life of Pi in there.
Also just started this one today - the writing has not yet grabbed me throu' to the first three chapters but we will have to see.
Now finished this read.
A good, fast-paced sea adventure with lots of atmospheric description and action.
Fun, good writing, gruesome at the end, and overall a 4 star read from me.
Not a prize winner, though.
Here's my review of Jamrach's Menagerie:
This novel takes place in the middle of the 19th century, and is narrated by Jaffy Brown, who is born to a struggling single mother in the Bermondsey section of London. He experiences a second birth eight years later, as he is rescued from the jaws of a tiger he has decided to pet on the nose by its owner, Charles Jamrach, a big hearted exotic animal collector and breeder. He employs Jaffy, and introduces him to Tim Linver, an older boy who also works for Jamrach, who befriends, and torments, the young lad.
Jaffy and Tim become young men, and both are lured away by the call of the sea, as opportunities for each of them on land are quite limited. They join the crew of a whaling ship, whose wealthy owner charges them with an even greater task: to bring back a live dragon from an island in the South Pacific, which has been described by several travelers but never captured. However, a great tragedy befalls the crew, and the journey becomes a long and tortuous struggle against starvation, hopelessness, destiny and death, which is described in detail throughout the latter half of the book.
Jamrach's Menagerie was apparently based upon a true story. It was an interesting story, but only moderately so. The supporting characters were thinly portrayed, as were the description of life aboard a whaling ship. The narration during and after the shipwreck was the strongest part of the novel, but it was often gruesome and went on far too long. This book is a curious selection for this year's Booker Prize longlist, and I would be very surprised, and disappointed, if it makes the shortlist.
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