A thrilling and powerful novel about a young boy lured to sea by the promise of adventure and reward, with echoes of Great Expectations, Moby-Dick, and The Voyage of the Narwhal.
Jamrach’s Menagerie tells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals, alongside Tim, a good but sometimes spitefully competitive boy. Thus begins a long, close friendship fraught with ambiguity and rivalry.
Mr. Jamrach recruits the two boys to capture a fabled dragon during the course of a three-year whaling expedition. Onboard, Jaffy and Tim enjoy the rough brotherhood of sailors and the brutal art of whale hunting. They even succeed in catching the reptilian beast.
But when the ship’s whaling venture falls short of expectations, the crew begins to regard the dragon - seething with feral power in its cage - as bad luck, a feeling that is cruelly reinforced when a violent storm sinks the ship.
Drifting across an increasingly hallucinatory ocean, the survivors, including Jaffy and Tim, are forced to confront their own place in the animal kingdom. Masterfully told, wildly atmospheric, and thundering with tension, Jamrach’s Menagerie is a truly haunting novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival.
From the Hardcover edition.
©2011 Carol Birch (P)2011 Random House Audio
"One of the best stories I’ve ever read; an extraordinarily good and completely original book." (A. S. Byatt, author of The Children's Book in a BBC Interview)
Transcendently researched, unsparing and hypnotic, Jamrach's Menagerie takes us to the edge of endurance where it becomes impossible to distinguish the captor from the captive. Carol Birch's urgent and wise story goes far beyond any whaling expedition, plumbing the depths of how we create our own humanity. It is a thrill to welcome this remarkable novelist to a larger American audience." (Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger)
“[T]here are enough strange sights, pervasive smells and sounds and curious characters to keep most novelists – and readers – going strong for three times the number of pages that there are here… a rather subtler story of the hazy line between camaraderie and rivalry and of the bonds both forged and broken in extreme adversity… Birch does more than simply recreate history… she conjures something far stranger and less immediately graspable than a straightforward recitation of facts would allow. Jaffy's journey is suffused with yearning – to find his place in the fluid but implacable hierarchy of the seamen, to understand the mysteries of the sea and its creatures and of the unknown and unknowable places that he witnesses… rendered with exceptional control, elucidating the see-sawing bond between Jaffy and Tim and the gradual disintegration of the sailors' bodies and minds… Birch has spun us a captivating yarn of high seas and even higher drama.” (The Guardian)
I gave this book 3 stars but I am a tough critic. I could easily see stretching that upward to 3 and a half. The narration is terrific and carries you along. The first half of this book is really, really good. The second half drags and you are forced to endure a bit of a long drawn out plot. If you stick around to the end of the book you will find a book loaded with meaning, told with thoughtfulness and pulled together nicely all the way from start to finish. A sign of a good audiobook for me is one that leaves me with characters that I cant seem to stop thinking about for days and this book does that for me. I LOVED the first half because it is fantastic, second half DRAGS, it ties together nicely in the end, and I loved the overall product. This book does not make my top ten but it is a fun, meaningful listen that I would recommend.
This book is beautifully constructed and written. The characters were well develped and for approximately 1/2 of the book, I really enjoyed it. There is really no way to make the rest of it anything but disturbing. It affected me so much that wished I had not read it. It is not unrealistic, but take my word for it, it is going to hurt.
No spoiler here.
Overall the audible experience is 4 starts. There were two aspects of the book that I really liked. One is stories about how people lived in other ages. In this case it is the late 1800's in England. The second is stories of survival in desperate situations.
I purchased this book on recommendations of my daughters teacher. I started listening without any idea about what happens in the book. The narration is excellent and the story is very good. I have spent some time at sea and I thought that the sailing experience was well covered.
If I were to make any changes, I would say that book this could have been a bigger and better novel. I was left wanting more information regarding two of the characters. Mr. Jamrach, and Dan could have been given more depth, perhaps even there own intertwining storyline.
Overall good audible experience. A little dark, but well worth the listen.
This book has raving reviews on amazon. Though I consider myself well-read and flexible as far as what I can enjoy content-wise in a book, I did not get into this book. I went an hour and a half deep into it, but finally turned away because after an hour and a half there was no semblance of plot. Books like Moby Dick go on and on, but at least you know pretty soon from the start that the main point of the book is that Ahab is trying to catch a particular whale. I think a writer owes it to his reader to at least throw a little bait out there. Nonetheless, it is well-written, well-narrated and might be amusing to someone who can enjoy style over substance. And who is to say this isn't a marvelous book once things kick in eventually?
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