October 5th, 2011

book and cup

#97 Jamrach's Menagerie - Carol Birch (2011)

read on kindle

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

This is an amazing book. It is, I am sure, the sort of book, I will be forced to continue thinking about for days to come. I have downloaded this and two others of the book shortlisted books for 2011 to read before the big announcement on the 18th Oct.

Set in the nineteenth century 'Jamrach's Menagerie' is the story of young Jaffy Brown, his extraordinary meeting with Mr Jamrach via the jaws of a Bengal tiger, and the adventure of a lifetime that comes later aboard a ship. As a young boy Jaffy comes to work for Mr Jamrach is the East end of London, and here he meets Tim, and his twin sister Ishbel. Jaffy and Tim's relationship is not always an easy one, petty jealousies and childish fallings out though, give way to a genuine friendship while at sea. The menagerie of the title is the collection of characters on the ship, including Dan Rymer, Skip, Captain Proctor, Gabriel and Rainey. Their friendships and the way this wonderful and terrible voyage and the search for the elusive Komodo dragon, test their humanity, and their ability to survive is breathtakingly told. The writing is wonderful, the descriptions of the sea beautifully poetic. There are some uncomfortable scenes in the later part of the book, but it is hard to put down and hugely readable. I loved the ending, it was somehow just right.

In the acknowledgments Carol Birch tells us of two historical incidents that are almost identical to events in the novel. That just blew my mind all over again.