Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Jamrach’s Menagerie ~ by Carol Birch

jamrach's menagerie

Review by Shellie for: Jamrach’s Menagerie ~ by Carol Birch (Audio)

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 mother. His adventures start when he accidently attains star-like status due to being taken up by a lion in its jowls, and surviving.  So he is offered a job working for the man named Jamrach (an exotic animal dealer) because it is now believed he possess powers with wild animals. When later he is given the opportunity to travel on a whaling ship to the South Seas in order to capture more animals for Jamrach’s Menagerie, one of which is a “dragon”, Jaffy jumps at the chance. 

A mistake aboard the ship creates a catastrophe and what’s left of the crew are forced upon two much smaller boats. Fending for themselves on the open sea for an extended period of time, it’s here where the nightmarish adventures begin and the reader gets a glimpse into the darkest and most sacrificing aspects of human nature and what men may and must do to survive.

Thoughts:  Listened to in audio, this book has meandering and lovely language. The smooth voice from the reader also lends to the story telling. Although it’s often long winded, it’s done in a calm and English accented voice. Where the reader varies his accents well for each of the diverse characters. I would say that the audio for the book is well done.

Definitely a literary tale with some horrific aspects, where men are left to survive with little sustenance on the open sea, leaving some room for delusional experiences due to lack of water and food and with nothing but sea and sun for months. Because of this, and the characters’ natural descent into madness, the book has been designated fantasy. For me I am not sure I would classify it as fantastical.

I enjoyed this story, and at times felt like I was actually traveling to the ports, Islands and countries of the South Seas. However, the entire novel did not capture me completely, since I kept waiting for the author to get on with the story line. Also the horrific scenes went on more than I felt was needed. In the end, beyond my personal preferences, I think that many readers will enjoy this book. I recommend it for literary fiction lovers, those who are interested in settings within the Victorian era, readers who want to travel vicariously to foreign areas on a sailing ship, and those who enjoy descriptive language. I give this book a 3 star.

Reader: Steve West; Books on Tape; 11 hours, 43 minutes; Jun 2011. Awards: Man Booker Prize for Fiction (nominee).

I received this book in its ARC format from the publisher and used it in tandem with the audio book which I borrowed from our local library. Sort of a combo read and listen thing. This in no way has influenced my opinions stated in this review.

Thanks for reading our first post from the Napa Valley.

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