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Jamrach's Menagerie Paperback – 1 Sep 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 168 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (1 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184767657X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847676573
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 110,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"An imaginative tour-de-force encompassing the sights and smells of 19th-century London and the wild sea. . . Gripping, superbly written and a delight." (Times)

"Riveting. Birch is masterful at evoking period and place . . . A teeming exhibition of the beautiful and the bizarre." (Sunday Times)

"A captivating yarn of high seas and even higher drama." (Guardian)

"Magical . . . A sustained feat of imagination and diligent research." (Daily Mail)

"One of the best stories I've ever read . . . A completely original book." (A. S. Byatt)

"Carol Birch's fiction continues to stretch bodies and minds to breaking point . . . marvelous and terrifying." (Sunday Times)

"Never mind not being able to put it down-there is a 100-page section in Jamrach's Menagerie in which you will not be able to breathe. Rarely have I read a book that so deftly marries high literary value with unbearable suspense." (Robert Hough, author of THE FINAL CONFESSION OF MABEL STARK)

"Sucks you into a world of the senses, from the filthy streets of Victorian London to the rolling hills of the South Seas. Jaffy Brown, the gifted narrator at the center of this mythic tale, rivals David Copperfield and Ishmael of Moby-Dick with his gift for storytelling. His 'rare old time' becomes, in due course, a fable of friendship, and a tribute to human survival. What a beautifully written and engaging novel!" (Jay Parini, author of THE LAST STATION)

"Birch is a naturally literary writer who can, with a simple image, evoke the deepest emotion." (Guardian)

"Whenever I read of people moaning on about the dire state of British fiction, I think of Carol Birch (and people like her) who are writing such good novels . . . her forte is feelings , about which she is so acute." (Margaret Forster)

"An epic tale of seafaring, friendship and danger." (London Review of Books)

"Put Moby Dick, Treasure Island and The Rime of The Ancient Mariner into a pot, add a pinch of Dickens, and you will get the flavour of Carol Birch's hugely entertaining novel." (Scottish Mail on Sunday)

"Everything you could want in a rousing adventure is here: a plucky hero, wild animals, salty sailors, whaling, a perfect storm, dragons, cannibalism - and it culminates in a satisfyingly redemptive ending. . . a remarkable acheivement, full of poetry and poignancy, adrenalin and anguish. . . i know i'll be spreading the word." (Lee Randall Scotsman)

"A spellbinding adventure on the high seas and a great salty historic epic." (Lythan St Annes Express)

"The final, elegiac section of Jamrach's Menagerie lifts the narrator's voice, enabling Jaffy to reach another level in his understanding, just as it permits Birch the freedom to set her beautiful, eloquent prose to a new emotional register, at once wistful, wanting and ultimately satisfyingly serene." (Times Literary Supplement)

"A teeming exhibition of the beautiful and the bizarre, and its erious ideas about the relationship between mankind and the natural world are communicated with such delicacy of thouch that they never slow down the propulsive telling of the story or dim the brilliance of the prose." (Sunday Times, Culture)

"An exuberant tale of seafaring, exotic fauna and drunken shore leave . . . Jamrach's Menagerie puts its characters through the mangler and invites us to inspect the damage . . . the classiest penny dreadful in the history of literature . . . [Birch's] words sing on the page." (Financial Times)

"A fearless storyteller of rare and sparkling originality." (Metro)

"As good as anything Peter Carey has done in this line and, in certain exalted moments, even better." (DJ Taylor Independent)

"Following a young boy's adventures from a pungently evoked 19th-century Wapping to seafaring calamity in the South Pacific, Birch's Booker-shortlisted novel is lush, poignant and beguilingly strange" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A gripping, gruelling seafaring tale of rivalries and friendships forged in adversity." (Daily Telegraph)

"A dark yarn of high seas and low deeds." (Sunday Herald)

"Quite wonderful... Birch's powers of evocation really bring life to the sights, sounds and smells of Jaffy's adventures." (The Crack)

"A wild, wondrous tale that deftly melds high-seas action with high drama." (Time Out)

"Utterly mesmerising." (Good Book Guide)

"This is a book of wonder and wonders, great beauty and horror . . . this is a book about how we make sense of life and the hands it deals us" (The Lady)

Book Description

'Put Moby Dick, Treasure Island and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner into a pot, add a pinch of Dickens, and you will get the flavour of Carol Birch's hugely entertaining novel.' Mail on Sunday

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The opening chapter of this book is glorious reminder of the power of a good yarn in the right hands. A young boy meets an escaped tiger on the streets on east London and his life is transformed. With each subsequent chapter the story just gets more compelling. I haven't read a more enjoyable book in years.

Like the best Victorian novels it follows a boy's life through to old age, and on the way recounts the most extraordinary voyage. After his encounter with the tiger, our hero Jaffy takes on work for its owner, Mr Jamrach - traveller, menagerie-owner and purveyor of the world's strangest creatures. This work soon involves a commission to procure a creature for Jamrach that may or may not exist, a so-called sea dragon that is recorded as living in the Indian Ocean. So Jaffy's voyage begins, and seems to be going very well. But then fate's winds blow in another direction.

It has all the verbal energy of The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, with the storytelling nous of Joseph O'Connor. Like a great David Attenborough film it takes you right up close to nature, whether the whiskers of Bengal tiger, the spout of a whale or the snapping jaws of a komodo dragon. But best of all it explores the wildness within our own species and asks what circumstances might see that laid bare.

A stunning piece of fiction from a writer at the top of her game. I must read more Birch.
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Format: Paperback
Carol Birch's new novel is the evocative, moving, and original story of Jaffy Brown, a young boy in nineteenth-century London. Jaffy has an encounter with a tiger in an East-End street, and this leads him to make the acquaintance of Mr. Jamrach, a trader of exotic animals. Through working for Jamrach Jaffy meets a wide variety of characters in London, including Tim and Ishbel. These are twins one year his senior who come to shape his life.

Jaf's story is gripping and unusual. There is a refreshing lack of clichés, in either plot or narrative, and no lazy shortcuts. The writing is evocative, with Birch excellently portraying atmosphere, with an almost tactile sense of London and of life on board a ship.

Birch's real triumph however is in her characters and characterisation - the real menagerie. As the narrator, Jaf is the standard likeable everyman and moral compass of the tale. Those surrounding him, such as Dan Rymer, Ishbel, Skip, Captain Proctor, and Rainey are illustrated in deft strokes, each believable and rounded. This is especially evident in the character of Tim, Jaf's boyhood friend and later shipmate. Tim's youthful cruelty and tyranny is excellently portrayed as an aspect of youth. Similarly, the growth of their friendship is realistically handled, and their later scenes together are quite affecting.

The only issue with this novel is the sometimes inconsistent voice of Jaf, the first-person narrator. This was particularly noticeable at the beginning of the novel, when Jaf's voice shifted between that of his young, uneducated London patter, and that of his older, educated and experienced voice, who was ostensibly telling the story of his life. This shift between Jaf's memories and contemporary narration was not always clear.

This, however, is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent novel.
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Format: Paperback
I was pleasantly surprised by this one. After reading other nominees for the Orange Prize, I was expecting more dull worthiness, but Carol Birch proves that women's fiction doesn't have to be about wistful librarians swilling camomile tea.

The novel begins in the grotty sewers of nineteenth century London, where we meet the hero, Jaffy Brown. Following a chance encounter with an escaped tiger, Jaffy gains work as a yard boy for the tiger's repentant owner; the eponymous Mr Jamrach, an importer of exotic animals. Jaffy proves to be a gifted animal handler and is sent on a mission to capture a `dragon' in the East Indies. Naturally, all does not go according to plan, leaving Jaffy lost at sea with a group of increasingly desperate shipmates.

One of the strengths for me is the sense of place and time this book conveys; it succeeds in vividly bringing to life a time when the world still contained such mystery and adventure that it was possible to believe in dragons, and surviving a sea voyage was more a matter of chance than GPS. (Of course, from a privileged 21st century perspective, we can sneer that a Komodo dragon is merely a big lizard, but that's not the point).

However, this technique works best when describing the characters' adventures on land, first in London and later during exotic port forays along the way. This causes the second half of the book to suffer, as the bulk of the narrative takes place on a marooned vessel in the open ocean. Although initially dramatic, this section was so drawn out I ended up hoping the whole lot of them would pitch overboard.
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Format: Paperback
Carol Birch is not a writer I have come across previously, but I am immensely grateful to have finally bumped into her work- her brilliant evocations of both the grimy, tough life of 19th century working-classs London and then the harshness of life on the ocean waves are vivid, rich and addictively more-ish.

Coupled with Birch's ability to spin an excellent yarn peopled by loveable, cheeky, yet frail characters, Jamrach's Menagerie is a reading feast. It's a novel which takes you on a classic, gothic adventure to the ends of the Earth, whilst exploring the essence of what it means to be human.

This novel is a treat, and is almost imppossible to put down once you've set sail on the search for the ever-so-rare Komodo dragon.
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