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Jamrach's Menagerie

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  4,614 ratings  ·  768 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
Hardcover, 295 pages
Published June 14th 2011 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Ben
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
·Karen·
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
Laura
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
Billpilgrim
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
Felice
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
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 13, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
Lance Greenfield
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
Susanna
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
Allie Whiteley
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
Meredith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Beadyjan
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
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
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
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
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
Maria
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
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
Ollie
Apr 24, 2012 Ollie rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
Recommended to Ollie 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
Ae Lynch
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
'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
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
Bobby O'malley
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
Kevin
This was an unexpectedly engrossing read, a real tour de force, from the author. The book opens on a working class London street, where we meet colourful characters including our hero Jaffy Brown, as Birch sets up the novel in a tone that's appealingly Dickensian, with added squalor.
Then the wanderlust sets in, and young Jaffy takes to the high seas in search of adventure. (Think Patrick O'Brien minus the over-emphasis on nautical jargon, and add a slowly building sense of foreboding, and your g...more
Frank Toddre II
What an interesting book. Started out very much as a Victorian coming of age novel, treasure island esque in going out to sea to learn about life.. Takes an incredibly unexpected dark turn for about a quarter of the book. I would recommend this book, maybe not the top of the list, but certainly one that kept the attention and had a great narrative to it that did make one feel closer with the characters.
Hannah
This 295 page historical fiction by Carol Birch, published by Vintage in 2011, is entitled Jamrach’s Menagerie. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2011.

The story is about young boy — Jaffy — who always knew, even in the womb, that he would be a sailor. He first starts out, however, being caught in a tiger’s mouth which leads to a job at Jamrach’s menagerie working with Tim, who I can only describe as the ultimate frenemy. Jaffy and Tim end up going on a sea adventure to capture a live drag...more
Paul
My book club selected Jamrach's Menagerie as an "award-winning fiction" read. Knowing that it has been long-listed for the Man Booker prize and compared favorably with classics like Moby Dick, I read it eagerly.

Jamrach's Menagerie is a novel about a 19th century London boy, Jaffrey, who survives a sea disaster. The novel is about friendship, growing up, adventure, love, survival, and coming to terms with grief. These are all profound subjects, and Jaffrey pulls you along with the story, as well...more
Stephen
Another book short-listed for this year's Booker Prize. This is an adventure story--in some ways very much in the tradition of so many of those British sea adventures set in the 19th century. It does, however, have some interesting twists. A young man, the narrator, is taken aboard a ship that has as one of its missions to capture and bring back to England a Komodo dragon, rumors of which have been circulating among sailors who have spent time in the Indonesian archipelago. They succeed, at leas...more
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Carol Birch was born in Manchester and attended Keele University. The author of eleven novels, she won the 1988 David Higham Award for the Best First Novel of the Year for Life in the Palace, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize with The Fog Line in 1991, and she was long-listed for the 2003 Booker Prize for Turn Again Home. Her novel Jamrach's Menagerie was long-listed for the Orange Prize 2011. She...more
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“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.” 17 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.” 4 likes
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