Libby's Reviews > Jamrach's Menagerie

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
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's review
Oct 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 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 expedition to collect a dragon for a rich customer. The adventurers successfully capture a huge and horrible reptile, but from that moment, everything goes wrong with the voyage. Wild weather and subtle madness sink their ship. The survivors are cast adrift in two small boats. In the end only two survive to return to London.
Those are the bare bones of Jaffy's tale. But the meat of the saga is so deliciously sweet, I can't begin to describe it. Jaffy himself narrates much of it as if in a dream. I am not much given to "literary" novels, but this one is worth the effort. The characters are fully realized people, unforgettable in their humanity. The settings tingle with color and odors and sounds. Most modern literature is deadly dull, but this is sparkling and fizzing and dazzling. Warmth, friendship, madness and menace, all roil together through the pages. I know I will always remember this story.
I strongly urge you to read it, and cherish it.
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