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Jamrach's Menagerie

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  7,427 ratings  ·  1,003 reviews
Jaffy Brown is running through the London backstreets when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. His life is transformed by the encounter. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach, the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the South Seas.
Paperback, 348 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by Canongate Books
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Marscha Brown Also, it's in part a book about whaling. Think Moby Dick. …moreAlso, it's in part a book about whaling. Think Moby Dick. (less)

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Average rating 3.58  · 
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Ben
Jun 17, 2011 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
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: brits, 19th-century
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
Debbie Zapata
Nov 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dar
I found this book at the library sale shelves. The cover attracted my attention first, and after reading the first paragraph I was hooked.

"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."

How could I resist finding out what happened next?!

A word of advice, though. I did not read the blurb on the book jacket when I bought the book. I did not
...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
Felice
May 21, 2011 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
Lance Greenfield
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 07, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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
Marialyce
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sept-2011
This was a book of substance. It was not an easy book fro me to read, certainly not a book that was flighty and irrelevant. The characters were very real and the scences depicted while at times being totally awful were authentic. The descriptions of being on the boat made me feel the rolling waves, the crushing sea, and the sickness which I feel when I am on a boat. Perhaps this sense of sickness made it a difficult read for me.

However, it was written masterfully with an eye almost to the mysti
...more
Billpilgrim
Aug 29, 2011 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
Clifdisc
Sep 15, 2011 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
May 23, 2011 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
Lisabet Sarai
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“I was eight years old... I know we came in time to the streets about Ratcliffe Highway, and there I met the tiger. Everything that came after followed from that. I believe in fate. Fall of the dice, drawing of the straw. It’s always been like that.”

Jaffy Brown is a poverty-stricken urchin living in the churning chaos of Victorian London, when his fate finds him. A tiger escapes from the establishment of Mr. Jamrach, who buys and sells exotic animals, and Jaffy is so enchanted by the magnificen
...more
Meredith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, favorites
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
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
Ali
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Ollie
Apr 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Libby
Oct 18, 2011 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
Bettie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ai
Jul 10, 2012 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
Angela
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: already-owned

This is the second book I have read by Carol Birch. Having found ‘Orphans of the Carnival’ to be such an interesting and captivating read, I was keen to read another novel by this author.

The novel begins circa 1842, in Bermondsey, south of London. “Say Bermondsey and they wrinkle their noses”. You wouldn’t want to live there, not then. An industrial centre, known for tanning, leather working, and food processing, with many busy wharves and warehouses supporting the rapidly growing port of London
...more
Ron Charles
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Carol Birch could have paddled across the Atlantic Ocean in a canoe faster than her award-winning books have come to America. The accomplished British author is already 60 years old and on her 11th novel (!), but we’re just finally getting a look at what she’s been up to. (Please, ma’am, I want some more.) “Jamrach’s Menagerie” is a moving, fantastically exciting sea tale that takes you back to those great 19th-century stories that first convinced you “there is no frigate like a book.”

The story
...more
Noa
Jul 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Beautifully written and interesting, bleaker than you'll imagine, I liked the characters. Started off more original than it ended and it dragged a bit, but I still enjoyed it. Real bleak though.
...more
M.L. Rio
Mar 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, historical
I finished Jamrach’s Menagerie several days ago (and I’ve read two other books in the meantime), but I’m still thinking about it.

Based in part on the true story of the whaleship Essex, it tells most of the life story of Jaffy Brown, a poor boy living in the Victorian hell-hole of Bermondsey until he inexplicably finds himself trapped in the mouth of an escaped tiger, belonging to one Mr. Charles Jamrach, the keeper of an exotic animal emporium on the colorful Ratcliffe Highway. Jamrach’s titular
...more
Harsha Priolkar
Feb 14, 2012 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
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
Rebecca
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
LeeAnn Heringer
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Carol Birch is the author of eleven previous novels, including Turn Again Home, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and Jamrach’s Menagerie, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist and long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.

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