Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Title: Jamrach’s Menagerie
Author: Carol Birch
Number of pages: 348
Started: 11 August 2011
Finished: 16 August 2011
I was born twice. First in a wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.
Jaffy Brown is running through the squalid London backstreets when he comes face to face with the escaped circus animal. His young life is transformed by the encounter. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach - explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world's strangest creatures - the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the South Seas. His job is to be the keeper of the animal they hope to find and bring back alive. So begins an extraordinary voyage. Jaffy's journey - if he survives it - will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits. Brilliantly written and utterly spellbinding, Carol Birch's epic novel brings alive the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the docks of London to the storms of the South Seas. This is a great salty historical adventure, and a fascinating exploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wilderness it contains.
What I thought:
This was an interesting tale. It was the third Booker that I read and my favourite so far. It was set in Victorian London and at sea, and told the tale of a boy’s life, starting from his encounter with a tiger on a London street. I thought the book was well written and, whilst a little gory at times, it had a good plot – from trying to capture a “dragon” to being stranded at sea with little hope of rescue. I am not sure this is the sort of book I would normally read, and is one that I might glance at and then move on. So, for me, this is why reading things like the Booker list, can be a good thing. Was it good enough to be a Booker winner? I’m not sure, but it was certainly a good read.
There are a couple of things that I found strange about it though. First, the opening words – “I was born twice.” Those are also the opening words to “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. Obviously there are only a finite number of words and combination of words in the English language, but I found it curious that it started the same way.
Second, is that hasn’t there been another book with a tiger and a tale of being stranded at sea, which itself won the Booker – Life of Pi by Yann Martel? Although in “Jamrach’s” case, there was no cross-over between the tiger and being adrift at sea. I didn’t think the stories were the same, I just found it unusual to have some notably similar aspects to the plot.