Monday, August 29, 2011

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

Jamrach's Menagerie: A NovelJamrach's Menagerie, a novel by Carol Birch, is a long listed 2011 Man Booker contender.  It is Birch's eleventh novel and her second time on the Booker long list.  This novel is the first of Birch's novels to be released in the U.S.  The bookies have this at 8/1 odds, which makes it six out of thirteen.

This is a grand, epic novel from the Victorian period.  Jaffy Brown, a London street kid, aged eight, comes face to face with an escaped tiger.  He wants to touch the tiger's nose.  He reaches out, strokes it and is grabbed by the tiger.  Saved from the jaws of the tiger by Mr. Jamrach, an explorer, entrepreneur and purveyor of curious creatures (including the escaped tiger), Jaffy and Jamrach become mentee and mentor.  Jaffy works for Jamrach and then finds himself on a whaler in search of a dragon in the Dutch East Indies.

The story has three parts.  First, life in London and working for Mr. Jamrach.  Second, the whaling experience and the hunt for the dragon. Third, the aftermath.  The most compelling part of the book was the last section, both heart wrenching and moving.  The first part feels like a Dickens book.  The second part is a less dramatic version of Moby Dick.   The third is not new either but it is worth reading.

The dialogue and the relationships Birch develops are authentic.  The writing is impressive.  The plot is well executed.  If you like Dickens, Melville, adventure stories, Patrick O'Brien and sea stories and/or the Victorian age, read this book.  It will transport you.

An interview with Birch here.

A short video teaser:

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