Jamrach's Menagerie

Jamrach's Menagerie

3.58 (7,702 ratings by Goodreads)
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3.58 (7,702 ratings by Goodreads)

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I was born twice. First in 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.

1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London's East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. 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 Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His 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 Indian Ocean.

This great salty historical adventure is a gripping exploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 153 x 234 x 26mm | 490g
  • Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Main
  • 1847676561
  • 9781847676566
  • 174,955

Review quote

One of the best stories I've ever read . . . A completely original book. -- A. S. Byatt 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 Carol Birch's fiction continues to stretch bodies and minds to breaking point . . . marvelous and terrifying. * * Sunday Times * * 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] almost unbearably suspenseful story of adventure and survival....as the story advances, a powerfully pervasive sense of melancholy takes hold of the reader, much as the tiger did young Jaffy, and one wonders if it will ever let go. Though Mr. Jamrach is based on a real historical figure, and Jaffy's voyage on that of the ill-fated whaler Essex, the story is entirely Birch's, and her principal characters are her own wonderful invention. She is, moreover, a brilliant stylist; reading her is like Christmas, every word being a gift to the reader. Though Birch is an established writer in England, this is her first novel to be published in the U.S. One fervently hopes it will not be the last. * * Booklist * * A magical, literary novel puts a surreal spin on a coming-of-age seafaring saga...retains a sense of childlike wonder in its lyrical prose...Jaffy's experience could well move the reader as profoundly as it changed the narrator. * * Kirkus Review * * The evocative descriptions of both London and seafaring life would be enough to carry this book on their own, but it's a cracking yarn as well. -- Euan Ferguson * * Time Out * * Jamrach's Menagerie is a magical book and the way in which Birch takes pieces of history and stitches them together into a compelling and moving narrative is close to inspired. -- Jamie Mollart * * Vulpes Libris * * It's an epic book, filled with surprises, twists and turns, and with characters you will route for. Yet it's one which manages to achieve its status without having to be over 350 pages. I think this is an incredible achievement and one which should be widely read. 9/10 * * Savidge Reads * * Utterly mesmerising. [Birch's] historical accuracy and compelling story told through the eyes of Jaffy brings the period of history and the character himself completely to life. * * Good Book Guide * *
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About Carol Birch

Carol Birch is the author of nine previous novels including Scapegallows and Turn Again Home, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize. She has won the Geoffrey Faber Award and the David Higham Award. She lives in Lancashire.
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Rating details

7,702 ratings
3.58 out of 5 stars
5 19% (1,450)
4 37% (2,858)
3 31% (2,352)
2 10% (795)
1 3% (247)

Our customer reviews

Copy received from and reviewed for Bookhugger and its Realreaders programme. "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." So starts Jaffy Brown's story. Born into poverty to a single mother in the 19th century he can't help himself when, aged eight, he sees a tiger lose in the street. He feels compelled to go to the tiger and stroke it, only to find himself in the tiger's mouth. It's an encounter he miraculously survives, and one that lands him a job in the Menagerie of the tiger's temporary owner, Mr. Jamrach. Here he meets and befriends Tim Linver and falls in love with Tim's twin sister Ishbel. Some years later a client of Mr. Jamrach wants to own a fabled but never seen or captured dragon, and Jaffy and Tim join a crew on a whaling boat part of a quest to bring home one such creature. The journey before the dragon is captured goes well; the whaling is succesful, a lot of the world is seen and friendships are made. The post dragon return journey is one long nightmare though, reaching its climax when the ship sinks and the crew finds themselves in two live boats in the middle of the ocean with little food and water. From then on survival is the only concern of those remaining, leading to dreadful choices and a lifetime of nightmares for those who might be "lucky" enough to survive. "One way or another I suppose you could say that voyage was the making of me. I'd have been a yardboy. Is that what it was all for? To make of me the man I am now? Is God mad? Is that it? Stuck between a mad God and merciless nature? What a game." This is a fascinating yet horrific story. The book is very well written, and Jaffy is a well rounded, likeable yet entirely human main character. However, there were times, after the ship had sunk in the story, when I had to put the book down and walk away from it for a little while because the story got to gruesome for me. I did find myself having to return to the book though, to see how the story would end. To find out if anything positive could ever come out of all the horror the characters were put through. It says a lot about the qualitity of the writing that I managed to finish this book. In the hands of a lesser author, the more horrific parts of the story would have lead to me putting the book aside without finishing it. As it is, I'm glad I did finish the story. Yes, it is gruesome in parts, but ultimately it is a story of humanity and what it takes for us to let go of some of our humanity, and the price we pay for that afterwards. The fact that the story is based on a true event, the sinking of the whaleship Essex only makes this book more fascinating. I'm glad I didn't know about the background of the story until I finished reading the book though. If I had read the acknowledgments first, as I sometimes do, I might not have read the book at all.show more
by Marleen Kennedy
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