Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch

jamrachs-menagerieREAD FOR BOOKERTHON

Eight-year-old Jaffy Brown escapes the Victorian slums and sets sail for a better life.

✔ A 19th Century street urchin named Jaffy Brown is at the heart of his book. In search of a better life, he works for Mr Charles Jamrach, an importer of exotic animals. Jaffy and another working boy Tim become close friends and allies.

The two boys are convinced to undertake a three-year whaling expedition in order to capture a spectacular ocean beast for their boss.

It is hard to say much more about the plot without giving everything away, but what occurs is not only a sea-faring adventure story the likes of Moby Dick, but ends up somewhere readers would not expect. Taffy and Tim only have each other and their sense of friendship and survival depends on them confronting and mastering their own existence as animals.

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.

The 19th Century London setting and the protagonist Jaffy are both well established from the outset. The smell of the slums, the aloneness of Jaffy and the desperation to get by are all felt intently. This makes the contrast of the pages at sea more glaring.

However it’s this contrast in the stories and the settings that helped form our final opinions of the book. Rachel left shocked by the dramatic change and suggests not reading the back cover blurb if you too like a bit of shock factor. Suzy found the shock change a little jarring and though not inkeeping with the original premise of the book, would still recommend it.


Published 2011
Canongate Books
348 pages

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