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UnavailableJamrach's Menagerie
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Jamrach's Menagerie

Written by Carol Birch

Narrated by Dave John


Unavailable in your country

Jamrach's Menagerie

Written by Carol Birch

Narrated by Dave John

ratings:
4/5 (50 ratings)
Length:
13 hours
Released:
Jan 9, 2011
ISBN:
9781407488356
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

""1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London's East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Rescued 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. His journey will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits. 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: a gripping exploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains."
Released:
Jan 9, 2011
ISBN:
9781407488356
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Carol Birch is the award-winning writer of twelve novels, including Jamrach's Menagerie, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. Her first novel, Life in the Palace, won the David Higham Award for Fiction (Best First Novel of the Year), and her second novel, The Fog Line, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Born in Manchester, she now lives in Lancaster.


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Reviews

What people think about Jamrach's Menagerie

3.9
50 ratings / 51 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    Good fun. Feels like your everyday light magical realist novel to begin with, along the lines of so many booker nominees, but becomes increasingly dark and much grimmer once they're at sea. After that it's a gripping yarn, which never feels too strange, despite the fact that it hinges on the capture of a giant monster on a desert island.
  • (4/5)
    When I picked up this book I didn't know what to expect. I thought it was going to be about a young boys journey at sea which it was - however it was a shocker!The descriptive nature of this book which I usually love, made me have to put it down for short periods to get a grip! The things they faced at sea were unimaginable.All in all, I recommend this book. (Maybe not for the faint-hearted though!)
  • (4/5)
    A good sea-faring adventure complete with dragons.
  • (5/5)
    I won't forget this book in a long time. Unusual subject matter - very disturbing and gripping. Not for the faint-hearted.
  • (4/5)
    Set in Victorian England, this is a well-written tale of a sea adventure that goes terribly wrong. Jaffy Brown is a young street urchin who gets hired on a sea expedition to capture a mysterious dragon. After many profitable months of whaling, the crew goes ashore on a tropical island and actually are able to capture the 'dragon', an enormous and very dangerous lizard. From the moment the lizard is caged on board, the luck changes for the expedition and one disastrous event after the other occurs. The book is very well written and even with all of this action is relatively short. Although I enjoyed the descriptions and many of the individual sections of the book - Victorian London, harpooning the first whale, the capture of the lizard - I felt that the plot was disjointed. Almost like there was too much that was trying to be covered in the story so that the overall theme was lost. Still I enjoyed the book as I was reading it and it's a good book choice to discuss with friends.
  • (3/5)
    I usually love Carol Birch's novels, but wasn't impressed with her latest creation. About the only recognisable quality I remembered from previous works like Scapegallows and Turn Again Home was her attention to detail. The characterisations were scanty, the plot rather disjointed, and I just lost interest. The two historical kernels at the centre of the story didn't tie together very well - a young boy encountering a tiger in the streets of London and the fate of the whaleship Essex, which inspired Melville's Moby Dick - and Jaffy Brown wasn't a strong enough character to take up the slack. I had to force myself to finish, and that was only because of the author's still exquisite prose and evocative imagery.
  • (5/5)
    A really great story. The setup sounds like The Life of Pi; but the book itself is more reminiscent of English Passengers. I really loved this book.
  • (3/5)
    Jamrach's Menagerie is a richly told story, bringing adventure and fantasy together on the high seas.
  • (3/5)
    I can sum this book up simply. It all goes downhill once you start eating humans after being lost at sea.
  • (3/5)
    Not at all what I expected from the blurbs, and deeply scarring. Don't make my mistake - reading it back to back with Life of Pi (hey, two books about boys and shipwrecks; oh, and the other thing) will not leave you in a happy place.
  • (3/5)
    Disappointing given the reviews and the Booker shortlisting. A well-executed but conventional nautical tale that, per the book description, combined Dickens and Melville. A London-born street urchin runs into a tiger on a street, gets connected with the owner of an exotic menagerie business, and then sets off on a sea voyage to track down what appears to be a komodo dragon. The bulk of the book is occupied by the sea voyage with all of the conventional renditions of a young, inexperienced an at sea, whale hunting, stopping at islands, and ultimately a shipwreck. Some of the scenes are unusually powerful (one in particular that I don't want to spoil) but none of them are particularly unique. And the characters are not especially interesting either, except maybe the few main characters.
  • (4/5)
    I liked this adventure story OK until it went all Donner Party around 3/4 of the way through. Jaffy Brown gets a job at a zoo and then hooks up with a whaling crew to find a "dragon" in the south seas. It kind of goes downhill from there. I had to skim some stuff cause, ick. I'm kind of dreading having to discuss it with my book club, but I took the trouble to read it, so I guess I will.
  • (2/5)
    Started off promisingly, but got less interesting as it went on, so, all in all disappointing in a genre that I usually enjoy.
  • (3/5)
    Carol Birch held my interest throughout this story of a boy who becomes a man through caring for animals, hunting whales, trapping a Komodo dragon and then shipwreck and survival. Quite a lot of action in just under 300 pages, and told quite well, with allusions to Dickens and Melville and Darwin and Wallace among others. A striking book, but at the end I found myself somehow dissatisfied: Is that all there is? Maybe Birch's skill, settings and characters encouraged too great expectations about where she was leading me.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent story telling. Interesting, complex characters. Vivid and compelling. Beautifully written.
  • (5/5)
    Well, I’m nearly done with the booker shortlist, only one more book after this one. I must say that this has been my favourite book on this list. The story had me gripped from page one and kept me within its clutches right until the end. Its structure, beginning in the characters childhood, makes you really get to know the characters and therefore makes you care about what happens to them in later life. It makes you even more heart broken when things do not go their way. I don’t think that this will win but I am hoping that it does. It deserves it.
  • (3/5)
    This novel snatched me up in powerful imagery, carried me off with its glorious possibility, and dumped me at sea… I went along for the voyage contentedly enough, but there I floundered, until the end where, like the narrator, I found a measure of wisdom and learned not to be bitter about things. Why the author failed to convince me of events after the first half of the book, I do not understand. The quality of writing may have slipped from well-handled lyricism to stream-of-conscious nonsense once or twice, but I can forgive that… I think it’s that the narrator languishes in a boat full of characters that are never properly realised and therefore hard to care about. Suspense is glimpsed, on the horizon, but never quite arrives. Only Skip, the lunatic, and his dragon are real. Everyone else is so much jerky, even before they are eaten. Perhaps my problem, as a reader, is that I fell hard for the optimism of Jamrach’s exotic injection into the narrator’s life, and my mind was not ready for the book to be about sadness, loss and survival when the change came. I wonder what this book was about when the author sat down to write it? The plot seems to advance reasonably when you consider it in hindsight, but as it unfolds, it seems an arbitrary bobbing about. Much like life. I suppose we can consider the author to have succeeded, then. Bravo.
  • (1/5)
    Starts well enough with scene of urchin being seizes in the jaws of an escaped tiger, well observed and detailed. But then the story seems to wander with too many scenes and characters, all somehow over described, striving for the exotic or the wretched, too many lists, not enough insight or point. I could see the pictures, but didn't care about the people or what might happen to them. When the cliche ship's captain with a whip appeared I gave up. Contrast with Tremains "Music & Silence" which is also a rich diverse historical/exotic tapestry, but engages the reader in its story and offers insight into the characters.
  • (4/5)
    An unusual and stunning opening of the book - featuring a runaway tiger in the Victorian streets of London that picks up our eight year old narrator in its mouth - sets us up for a fascinating, often stomach-churning adventure laced with psychological observation and reflection.There is something Golding-like about Carol Birch's style. (I was reminded particularly of 'Pincher Martin' and not merely for the marine setting.)I had some early concerns about the narrative diction, which fluctuates between the homespun vocabulary of a street-raised Londoner and a more formally eloquent style. This is partly explained by a late development in the story which sees narrator Jaf falling in love with learning, but the explanation cannot smooth out for the reader a dislocation already experienced. This was a minor irritation, though; the flow of the story and our interest in Jaf maintains the attention throughout.Without revealing too much of the plot,a major chunk of the novel has some of the characters in a battle for survival on the sea. Very graphic in parts but the author's handling of detail and the minute changes in the victims as their suffering worsens shows writing of the highest quality.There is no conventional happy ending to this story but there is a maturity in the resolution which is in richer vein, and deeply satisfying.
  • (4/5)
    Jaffy Brown grows up in 19th-century London, his mother a single parent, and Jaffy is forced from a very early age to contribute to their income, but he often goes hungry. One day, as he's running an errand, he encounters an escaped tiger in the street and, not realising the danger he's in, reaches out to pat it on the nose. The tiger very gently takes his head in its mouth and drags him a few yards before the owner, Mr Jamrach, can intervene. To compensate Jaffy for the experience, he offers him a job in his menagerie, looking after a colourful variety of animals, and from then on, Jaffy`s life changes for the better. After a few years, he and his best friend Tim decide to go to sea to look for a "dragon" (actually an ora or Komodo dragon) for a wealthy client somewhere in the Pacific. This is the start of a wild adventure that will change Jaffy to the core of his being ...Actually based on two true stories, and referencing a third, this is a very strange book, told in the first person by Jaffy. He's a very likeable guide, and we willingly follow him wherever he leads us: from the sewers of Bermondsey to Mr Jamrach's menagerie and the high seas. The prose is often quite luminous and appears like poetry at times, the sea with its qualities of beauty, immensity and inherent danger always present in the background. The closeness of the twenty souls on-board ship is described very movingly, in particular Jaffy's inner turmoil when misfortune befalls the enterprise. The subsequent 100+ pages don't make for easy reading and are certainly not for the squeamish but are essential for the rest of the book to understand Jaffy's emotional state (maybe it did go on for a bit too long, there were times when I started to feel distinctly queasy). I have to say that I really enjoyed the book, in particular Carol Birch's prose, at the same time I have to admit that I couldn't stomach reading it for a second time. I'm planning to read one of her previous novels soon to compare.
  • (4/5)
    If you'd asked me to predict which of the Booker short list I would have most enjoyed I would have suggested this one. In the end I enjoyed it, but it didn't quite grab me as I was expecting. Eight year old Jaffy, very new to the neighbourhood of Ratcliffe Highway in London, encounters a tiger on the street, and reaches out to stroke it. I loved the way that the uneducated and inexperienced Jaffy assumes that the tiger was a normal resident of his new home, an area where exotic birds are sold:'Just as the birds of Bermondsey were small and brown, and those of my new home were large and rainbow-hued, so it seemed that the cats of Ratcliffe Highway must be an altogether superior breed to our scrawny south-of-the river mogs. This cat was about the size of a small horse, massively chested, rippling powerfully about the shoulders. He was gold and the pattern painted so carefully all over him, so utterly perfect, was the blackest black in the world' The tiger picks him up in his jaws but not being hungry, drops him unharmed. To make amends for his experience, Jamrach, an importer an exporter of exotic animals, from whom the tiger has escaped offers him a job caring for the animals of his menagerie. And there Jaffy stays until he's grown, making friends and being teased in turn with Tim, Jamrach's existing keeper, and falling in love with Ishbel, Tim's nail-biting twin sister. When the chance comes to go on a sea-voyage to bring back a semi-mythical dragon (evident to the reader as a Komodo dragon) both Jaffy and Tim jump at the chance. But perhaps capturing a dragon is as unlucky as killing an albatross and things start to go badly wrong.I felt like I should have liked this more than I did. The book splits into three main sections and while I liked the first section in London and was interested in the second section about catching the dragon (I've always had a bit of a thing about Komodo dragons), the third section (which is quite gruesome) didn't hold my interest as much. Somehow, the horror of the situation in which the characters found themselves didn't quite ring true for me.
  • (5/5)
    This was an awesome book. I didn't want to put it down, but sometimes I had too, because certain scenes were pretty powerful in their descriptions and full of tension. But I was always drawn right back into the story.This is the tale of Jaffy who lives in England during the 1800s. One day, through an unusual encounter, Jaffy finds himself employed by the amazing Mr. Jamrach who owns a menagerie of exotic animals. The first part of the book introduces us to Jaffy, Mr. Jamrach, Tim, and Ishbel. We also meet Dan, who sails the seas capturing these exotic creatures to sell to Mr. Jamrach.The second part of the book is about Jaffy and Tim's adventures as crew aboard a whaling ship heading out for three years. Jaffy, Tim and Dan have joined the crew to hunt down a dragon to bring back as the ultimate exotic prize. However, things take a turn for the worst after the dragon is captured and brought on board. Eventually the crew view the creature as bad luck.The third part of the story involves the survivors of this whaling ship after a freak storm sinks the ship. Their two small boats drift across the immense sea while the crew struggles to keep their sanity and them selves alive.Carol Birch is truly a gifted writer. In the first part of the book, I literally felt like I was right there with Jaffy in the dirty, smelly back alley's of Ratcliffe Highway. The adventures on the high seas and dragon hunting were thrilling. The latter part of the book was sometimes so intense, I had to close the book and take a break from the awfulness of Jaffy's situation. The writing and plot were that good. I highly recommend this book!
  • (4/5)
    Trip to catch a dragon, many pages once shipwrecked returning home.
  • (4/5)
    A day passed, two, three. Those seas turned me in and deeper in on myself, so little speech any of us seemed to have at that time. Islands came, islands went, suns rose and set, the ocean flowed on, and the sense of immensity returned in me, uncomfortable, an apprehension of something far beneath, beyond my grasp.Unfortunately, Jamrach’s Menagerie was my least favorite book of the the five shortlisted titles that I read. I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t think there was anything really special to it, either. I really didn’t like the title of the book either, as Jaffy’s time at the Menagerie is not really the focus of the book. It should have been called Jaffy’s Journey or something to that effect.Anyway, Jaffy as a little boy meets Jamrach because he stopped to pet a runaway tiger. He isn’t hurt, and Jamrach takes him in as a caretaker for his animals. Jamrach’s Menagerie is sort of a makeshift zoo for rare animals from exotic countries. Several years later, one of Jamrach’s customers wants a dragon from the orient. Jaffy, his friend Tim, and a specialist in obtaining exotic animals, Dan, set sail in search of the dragon.To make a long story short, things go horribly wrong. In fact, the last half of the book is very graphic in nature, but at the same time, very gripping. Whereas I read the first half of the book and was fairly bored by it, the last third or so had me reading without stopping until the very end.Even so, as I said before, there was really nothing special about the book. I even put the book aside for about 2 weeks before finally completing it, only so I could weigh in on the Booker shortlist.If you are fascinated by survival stories, though, you just might enjoy it.
  • (3/5)
    It's not what you expect it, or want it to be. A lot more intense and haunting than most novels. It's definitely a page turner but it's not for the faint of heart. I won't say more because I don't want to ruin it for others.
  • (4/5)
    Agree with one of the reviewers who said that this book would stay with them. Me too. You could see this novel as a love story in a traditional sense but it is much more than that. The detail is incredible and in some of the more intense parts of the plot you really do feel you are there where it is all happening. This book will involve you make no mistake about it and at times it is not pleasant but I can't remember reading such vivid passages for a while. Good stuff!
  • (1/5)
    I found this noel immensely disappointing.After a marvellous opening in which an eight year old boy stumbles across a tiger wandering through the streets of Victorian London it rapidly declined into unutterable tedium, with an unfortuante preponderance of graphically-described vomiting. Still, that is how I started to feel as I carried on with this book, too!
  • (5/5)
    Set in the unforgiving world of 19th century England, Jamrach’s Menagerie is the story of Jaffy Brown, who claims to have been reborn at the age of eight. On that day, he’s out and about when everyone around him starts running and pressing themselves up against walls. Looking up, he sees a large tiger padding right towards him. Jaffy walks up and pats its fur—at which point the tiger takes the boy in its mouth and starts carrying him off, little bare toes dragging over the cobbles. Jaffy doesn’t struggle or fuss.Soon enough, the boy is saved by the eponymous Jamrach, the dealer in wild and exotic animals from whom the tiger had escaped. Jamrach decides that Jaffy is “good with animals,” and fearless to boot. The eight year old is offered a job, and he spends his formative years working with the animals alongside a frenemy, one year older. As teenagers, the two boys decide to ship off to sea aboard a whaling ship with a secondary mission. They are to capture an unknown beast—a dragon—for one of Jamrach’s wealthy clients. We haven’t entered the realm of fantasy; this reader knows that what they are after is a Komodo dragon, even if the characters themselves don’t.While this is Ms. Birch’s ninth novel, it’s her first novel-length work published in the U.S. It has also been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year, and I can certainly see why. Rarely have I seen more evocative prose. She has vividly captured the sights and sounds and ghastly smells of this harsh era. She has also captured the wonder of this more innocent age. Beauty and wonder are a joy to read when so evocatively rendered, but when the tale devolves into terror, madness, and a struggle to survive—as it does—the power of her prose is painful. It’s amazing how affecting mere words can be!Jaffy Brown is a character who leads an extraordinary life, and Carol Birch takes her readers on an adventure well worth traveling!
  • (3/5)
    Disappointing given the reviews and the Booker shortlisting. A well-executed but conventional nautical tale that, per the book description, combined Dickens and Melville. A London-born street urchin runs into a tiger on a street, gets connected with the owner of an exotic menagerie business, and then sets off on a sea voyage to track down what appears to be a komodo dragon. The bulk of the book is occupied by the sea voyage with all of the conventional renditions of a young, inexperienced an at sea, whale hunting, stopping at islands, and ultimately a shipwreck. Some of the scenes are unusually powerful (one in particular that I don't want to spoil) but none of them are particularly unique. And the characters are not especially interesting either, except maybe the few main characters.
  • (5/5)
    Jamrach’s Menagerie has animals that don’t always fair well but the real story surrounds the friendship of Jaf Brown and Tim Linver including a decision no true friendship should ever have to endure. The final chapters dealing with morality and forgiveness also well done. Shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Carol Birch’s novel has truly elegant writing. Audio book read by Steve West is special. One of my favorite books for 2011.