Literary Fiction (View all)
London, 1857: after surviving an encounter with an escaped tiger on the streets of Bermondsey, nine-year-old Jaffy stumbles into a job for its owner, the wild animal collector, Mr Jamrach.
Man Booker Shortlist 2011
When I see the short list you know, I often wonder if the panel has been playing darts! I think we’ve all come to expect an interesting read from this prize, but certainly not necessarily the best read of the year, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this wonderful novel included on the list. Of the other short listed books I have read only Snowdrops, which left me fairly indifferent, though I am hearing that people are enjoying The Sisters Brother, by Patrick deWitt, so I look forward to reading that shortly. Beginning in 1857 on the dirty streets of Victorian London, Jamrach’s Menagerie is a rollicking tale of adventure on the high seas, irresistibly narrated by fifteen-year-old Jaffy Brown, with overtones of Melville’s Moby Dick, and packed with all the verbal energy of The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner; a tale so visceral and vivid that I feel as if I myself have sailed and endured along with the Lysander’s crew, all of whom I have come to know intimately. The writing is positively splendiferous. If asked to quote a passage as an example, I would be hard put to single out a paragraph, and would need to sit you down and read you the whole of part two! The third part, in which the survivors drift for 65 days across the long lonely stretch of the vast South Pacific Ocean, is a graphic tale of the power of friendship and human endurance, written in a so lively and realistic a manner, that you the reader will be swept along with them, forced perchance, to answer some extremely difficult moral questions. This is story telling at its very best, and I now look forward to reading other titles by Carol Birch. Interestingly, when I was talking to my Pan Macmillan rep on Friday last, he was telling me that when Jeffrey Archer was here in March to promote his latest novel, he sent him out to get this title just as soon as it hit the shelves. Rip roaring stuff!