Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Jamrach's Menagerie” as Want to Read:
Jamrach's Menagerie
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Jamrach's Menagerie

3.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,849 Ratings  ·  839 Reviews

SHORTLISTED for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

A thrilling and powerful novel about a young boy lured to sea by the promise of adventure and reward, with echoes of Great Expectations, Moby-Dick, and The Voyage of the Narwhal.

Jamrach’s Menagerie tells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy
...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published June 14th 2011 by Vintage (first published 2011)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Jamrach's Menagerie, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Jamrach's Menagerie

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Ben
Jun 17, 2011 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received my copy from Bookhugger's Real Readers programme and the first thing to note is that the cover is absolutely stunning. The second thing is that the opening paragraph is one of the most enticing I have ever read. Unfortunately, after such a promising first impression, it falls a little flat.

It's definitely an adventure novel, but this creates some odd strengths and weaknesses. I would disagree with the negative reviews which found it difficult to read. It's written in quite a compellin
...more
Laura
Jun 13, 2015 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star-club
This was a really interesting read. It starts out almost like a Dickens novel- except more colorful. (Young, impoverished boy in Victorian London falls in with wild characters, goes on adventures, etc.) But it took a dreadfully dark turn that shocked the hell out of me, and left me disturbed for days. So be prepared for that—this is much more than the average coming of age adventure story. In retrospect there were hints of a wild, dark vein earlier in the story, I just wasn’t prepared for HOW da ...more
·Karen·
Feb 23, 2012 ·Karen· rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 19th-century, brits
Not suitable for vegetarians.

Well, not for squeamish vegetarians.

Actually, no, scrub that. Not suitable for the squeamish full stop.

But I 'really liked' it, so. Not squeamish. (lovely word) And/or there are compensations for the ickiness. Yes; Jaffy's voice is a steal. Birch creates him and his world, conjures them up out of nothing and there is no sense of artifice, it plops smoothly into place alongside anything else you have read of 19th century London. Then he is wrenched away and of course
...more
Felice
May 21, 2011 Felice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jamrach's Menagerie is the most colorful, grimy, brutal, salty coming of age story you are likely to read. It's the story of Jaffy Brown a nineteenth century boy who comes fully loaded with all that the best urchins have to offer: abject poverty, a single parent, limitless optimism, no education but natural smarts and a love of the sea. Jaffy is part Pip, part Popeye, part Ishmael, part Steve Irwin and thanks to Birch all freshness and charm. He's our narrator in Jamrach's so it's good thing you ...more
Billpilgrim
Sep 06, 2011 Billpilgrim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this one to read because it was on the longlist for the Booker Prize. I started it when I first took it home from the library, but I did not get into it then and thought I wouldn't read it. But, then I decided to try it again, and when I got a little further into it (I had not read very much the first time), I started to enjoy it.
Jaffy is a young, poor boy living in London in the 1850's. At age 9, when a tiger escapes its cage at a local animal store, he walks up to the cat and strokes
...more
Allie Riley
I was torn between two and three stars for this. Perhaps it is more like 2.5. This book was a chore for me to read. I felt disappointed and that it ought to have been so much better. Maybe the problem was one of marketing: it is called "Jamrach's Menagerie" and yet the vast bulk of it is about a voyage to find a (presumably komodo) dragon.

For a book with such Dickensian ambition, the characters were remarkably lifeless. I felt that I should have identified with them more and been more drawn in.
...more
Lance Greenfield
Aug 11, 2012 Lance Greenfield rated it really liked it
The intensity, the deep feeling, the strong relationships, the joys, the horrors, the experiences, the adventures are all described so wonderfully by the author through the senses of Jaffy Brown in the first person, that I shall not even attempt to tell you about them. You need to read the book for yourself.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I cannot imagine how good the eventual winner must've been in the eyes of the judges to have beaten Jamarach's Menagerie.

Towards the end, I was
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 13, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Man Booker Prize
This book was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize this year, 2011. It lost to Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. I am still to read a Barnes but I am sure I will like his works since my brother like his “Flaubert’s Parrot.” However, I wanted to have some lighter reads every December so I picked up this book first. I made the right decision: this book is light to read yet heavy in its artistry.

Think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s sea adventure masterpiece Treasure Island because a big part of this
...more
Clifdisc
Sep 21, 2011 Clifdisc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. This book was not at all what I was expecting. Jamrach's Menagerie is an amazing, brutal piece of literature and one of the most harrowing things I've ever read.

The book starts in 1857 when Jaffy, an eight-year old London street urchin is picked up by an escaped tiger and carried to Jamrach's Menagerie. Jaffy is hired by Jamrach and years later, as a young man, sets out on a whaling ship with his best friend Tim in search of an exotic animal for a wealthy collector. The first half of the no
...more
Susanna
Jun 10, 2011 Susanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From reading others' reviews, apparently I am one of the few people who didn't really like this book (I also discovered that Jamrach was an actual person). I found the first half of the novel boring. Yeah, Jaffy almost gets his head bitten off by a tiger, but after that it's all work at the menagerie and sailing, and somehow Birch didn't make it interesting enough to hold my attention. There were some isolated events where I thought, "Yes! Finally, the point is being made clear!" - but these wer ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is one of those books where I really would like to know what the judges for the Man Booker Prize were thinking when they picked it over 100 other contenders to be longlisted for the prize for 2011. That's why I read it.

Parts of it have promise. The story starts with this young boy, Jaffy, who lives at the very edge of the Thames river, described uncomfortably well, in a way only rivaled by Stephen King. (Good but not good! It puts you there, in a way you would never want to be!) Jaffy has
...more
Meredith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Beadyjan
Sep 20, 2011 Beadyjan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, historical
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Jaffy's adventures. At the beginning of this book I felt it was possibly going to be more of a young adult novel but as it progresses it most definitely isn't. I was a tad disappointed that the story doesn't concentrate more on the animals than it does and was hoping for a water for elephants Water for Elephants kind of feel but was very wrong.

Its a very atmospheric historical story about a young lad living in poverty in the London slums of the mid 19th century
...more
Ali
Oct 05, 2011 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Libby
Mar 23, 2015 Libby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unforgettable, cat
This book is almost hypnotically beautiful. Carol Birch creates worlds so vivid and tangible that I felt transported to her reality. Her writing is so evocative that I could taste and smell the salt and flowers and excrement.
The story is narrated by Jaffy, an urchin from the slums of London, who has an encounter with a tiger in Ramsgate Road. Jaffy's bravery and composure impress Jamrach, a dealer in wild animals. Jaffy goes to work for Jamrach, and eventually goes to sea, to be part of an expe
...more
Ai
Jul 10, 2012 Ai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely not a book for those who cannot stomach detailed descriptions of gruesome situations.

First of all, I absolutely loved the writing style of the book. Other reviewers have mentioned that the first parts of the book are much more lively and the ending feels disconnected and unfocused in comparison. Personally though, this worked well for me, and I did not think that there needed to be a more focused closure reached. After what the main character experienced, I fully believe that his life
...more
Oliver
Apr 24, 2012 Oliver rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
Recommended to Oliver by: bookclub
I believe everyone should give a book a chance. I believe it's fair if that chance consists of the first 100 pages - if by that stage the author has failed to engage the reader, I say it's OK to put down the book and walk away.

I gave Carol Birch the benefit of 137 pages but it was no good. Jamrach's Menagerie is the tale of a boy from Bermondsey, South London, who comes into contact with a man who sells exotic animals after one of his tiger's escapes and nearly swallows the boy whole. Soon he's
...more
Rebecca Foster
Billed as a rollicking Victorian adventure story ranging from the dark back alleys of London to the South Seas; that is technically an accurate summary, but very deceiving in terms of the novel’s tone. I expected light-hearted frolics (part of the reason I took it on holiday to Brittany) but instead found an increasingly dark psychological portrait of humanity on the edge of survival.

The novel starts happily enough, with young London scamp Jaffy Brown’s lucky escape from the jaws of Mr Jamrach’s
...more
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
Original review posted at Layers of Thought.

A literary coming of age tale that catalogs a historical journey of a sailing ship’s trip to the South Seas. Set in Victorian times, and told in first person by its main protagonist, a boy called Jaffy, the ship voyages to exotic isles to capture wild animals. When the ship becomes lost at sea, the story addresses some of the darkest aspects of human need and survival.

About: Jaffy Brown, is a street urchin who lives in London with his working class mot
...more
Molly
May 16, 2012 Molly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 5-stars
Aqui está um livro que me surpreendeu.
Quando o vi, com a sua capa bonita, misteriosa e luminosa, pensei que iria gostar bastante dele. Li a sinopse na parte de trás e gostei do que li. E aqui está uma sinopse que não engana.

Gostei imenso do livro. É dos meus favoritos.
A história é narrada por Jaffy Brown. Jaffy inicia a sua narrativa falando da sua infância nos esgotos de Bermondsey, na casa por cima da ponte onde vivia com a sua jovem mãe. Jaffy gostava imenso do mar. A sua canção de embalar
...more
Jane Hoppe
If I were Carol Birch’s writing teacher—an absurd supposition because she is a better writer than I could ever hope to be and I would be lucky to be a student in her writing class—I would give Jamrach’s Menagerie an A+++ for evoking emotion and vividly describing sensations and an F--- for choosing subject matter.

As likeable narrator Jaffy describes wonders and horrors on his first ocean sailing voyage aboard whaler Lysander, I eagerly see, hear, taste, touch, smell everything. I have never been
...more
Harsha Priolkar
Feb 14, 2012 Harsha Priolkar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one that was shortlisted for the 2011 Booker eventually losing out to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

I picked it up because of it's intriguing title and rather droll cover. Don't you love a book with a great cover? It's a good read, although at times the descriptive prose tended to excess. It took me a while to get used to the author's style and her often abrupt prose. It suits the subject matter fine though which for the most part deals with sailors and their voyages. She's cl
...more
Ae Lynch
Mar 27, 2011 Ae Lynch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Carol Birch’s new novel is the evocative, moving, and original story of Jaffy Brown, a young boy in nineteenth-century London. Jaffy has an encounter with a tiger in an East-End street, and this leads him to make the acquaintance of Mr. Jamrach, a trader of exotic animals. Through working for Jamrach Jaffy meets a wide variety of characters in London, including Tim and Ishbel. These are twins one year his senior who come to shape his life.

Jaf’s story is gripping and unusual. There is a refreshi
...more
Ally Atherton
Sep 30, 2011 Ally Atherton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'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.'

Saved from the mouth of an angry tiger, Jaffy Brown's life changes when he is introduced into the world of Mr Jamrach and his menagerie of strange and exotic creatures. He is given the job of looking after the animals and then finds himself on board a ship bound for the Indian Ocean on a rath
...more
Lena
Aug 30, 2011 Lena rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked it up from the library because the cover was so cool! I am an artist--I couldn't resist.

But I was deceived.

The 1st paragraph was good, the 2nd paragraph made no sense to me no matter how many times I read it. I even read it again after I finished the book. Still didn't get it.

And Birch's writing style felt really jerky to me. She overdid "short and concise" writing to the point where I couldn't follow her train of thought. She would throw an event or concept out with no introduction. I
...more
Christopher Waters
Exquisite writing, brilliant storytelling, gripping and poignant. This is easily the most accessible -- and at the same time the most realistic -- novel with a Victorian-era setting that I've ever read. The seafaring adventure, the scathing drama, the humor and humanity all blend together into something almost poetic. Life of Pi meets Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The epic tale -- sometimes joyous, sometimes funny, even though often anguished -- itself powered me through hundreds of pages in a si ...more
Bobby O'malley
May 19, 2013 Bobby O'malley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read a work of fiction about once every two weeks (I'm a slow reader). That said, this was one of my favorite books that I read last year. Very Dickensian and dark but loaded with adventure (a ship being "chased" by 3 typhoons?) human frailty and redemption. I don't understand people who say it was difficult to read--I raced through it! If you think a story set in the 19th century, involving a group of men setting sail to capture a dragon (a komodo dragon, mind you--this isn't science fiction) ...more
Laura
I've given up. Whilst this novel is beautifully written and the descriptions of places (such as London) are evocative, there wasn't enough plot or pace for me to keep reading. I found myself skipping pages and pages to try to get to the Next Thing That Happens. The characters also mostly felt like devices to which Stuff Happened as opposed to actual people. Which meant that I didn't care what happened to them, so I left them where they were and stopped reading. I know this book has won many acco ...more
Sid Nuncius
Jan 04, 2016 Sid Nuncius rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was an excellent book. It is gripping, moving and haunting and although it deals with a great deal of suffering and sheer horror, it is often very beautiful.

From the title and some reviews which describe it as "rollicking" and a "romp," I expected a jolly story about a young man becoming involved with an exotic menagerie in Victorian London. It turned out to be very different - a complex, literary novel of the sea as our narrator sets off on a journey on one of the last of the wha
...more
Bethany
May 21, 2015 Bethany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What happens when you have to keep living after you do the unthinkable... just to survive? Is life worth living after that?

I do not have the right words to do justice to this book. Let's just say that I highly admire the author. Dear Carol Birch, I wish I had words like you have. You astounded me again and again with your beautiful, polished, often stunning and breathtaking writing. You surprised me. You made me gasp in wonder. You kept me awake far past my bedtime.

This is why I read. Not so muc
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Darkness 3 47 Apr 11, 2012 06:14PM  
  • Derby Day
  • The Last Hundred Days
  • A Cupboard Full of Coats
  • Pigeon English
  • Snowdrops
  • On Canaan's Side
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb
  • Far to Go
  • Half Blood Blues
  • The Stranger's Child
  • The Lighthouse
  • In a Strange Room
  • The Yips
  • Parrot and Olivier in America
  • I'll Go to Bed at Noon
  • C
  • Next of Kin (Scott Finn #4)
  • Whatever You Love
149357
Carol Birch is the author of ten previous novels, including Scapegallows (2008) and Turn Again Home (2003) which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She has also won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the David Higham Award for Best First Novel. Jamrach's Menagerie was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.
More about Carol Birch...

Share This Book



“It was the first smile of my life. Of course, that is a ridiculous thing to say; I had been smiled at often, the big man had smiled at me not a minute since. And yet I say: it was the first smile, because it was the first that ever went straight into me like a needle too thin to be seen.” 20 likes
“There's no way out of this, it's stark: live or die. Every given moment a bubble that bursts. Step on, from one to the next, ever onwards, a rainbow of stepping stones, each bursting softly as your foot touches and passes on. Till one step finds only empty air. Till that step, live.” 6 likes
More quotes…