Wednesday 2 March 2011

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

More often than not, the parcels that arrive on my door mat are rectangular in shape - and contain books.  I've been reading since I was 4.  I average around 150 books per year - so over the last 40 years, that's a lot of books!

I'm part of the Real Readers programme  Real Readers is a great project and allows readers to review books before they are released.  It's run by the friendliest and most helpful guy called Simon.

I've had a couple of books that didn't really impress me, but on the whole, there has been a great selection.

My latest read was Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch       
'I was born twice. First in 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.' 1857. 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. Brilliantly written and utterly spellbinding, Carol Birch's epic novel brings alive the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the docks of London to the storms of the Indian Ocean. This great salty historical adventure is a grippingexploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains

Here are my thoughts:

'Jamrach's Menagerie' is a real rollicking romp of an adventure, transporting the reader bang smack into the middle of 19th Century London where the hero of the story; Jaffy, lives with his Mother.  Jaffy's is eight years old when he comes face to face with an escaped tiger on a busy London street.  The tiger belongs to Mr Jamrach and is being taken to his menagerie to join the other exotic animals and birds who reside there, waiting to be snapped up by members of the gentry who consider it quite fashionable to own their own exotic beast.
Jamrach offers Jaffy a raspberry cream puff and a job at the menagerie, and it is then that life changes for him.   Jaffy becomes involved with Tim and his twin sister Ishbel and it is not long before he and Tim set sail for the other side of the world - in search of a 'dragon' from the South Pacific - the only animal that Jamrach does not yet own.   Tim and Jaffy set sail, along with famous seaman Dan Rhymer.    Their experiences on board the whaling ship the Lysander involve adventures with colourful characters, strange lands and even stranger and horrifying creatures.  Jaffy experiences things that no small boy should ever come across, and the reader is witness to some quite unsavoury behaviour along the way.
The story contains drama and adventure and rolls along at a fairly quick pace.  There is an interesting use of language at times, which sometime irritated me - I felt it was pretty stereotypical of sailors but didn't really detract from the action.
Although the story is based on some true incidents - there really was a Jamrach who supplied London Zoo with animals and there is a statue in the Tobacco Dock shopping centre in Wapping, London of a boy facing up to a tiger, most of the characters are fictional and are well-drawn and interesting.   
High seas and high drama, an enjoyable, if at times a little over the top read.    

So, there's my first thoughts on things that have popped through my letter box - there will be more!

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