Those expectations were met and exceeded.
Jamrach’s Menagerie is visceral, beautiful and heart wrenching novel. It is also the best book we’ve read in 2011 thus far.
Jamrach’s Menagerie is the story of Jaffy Brown who, as a child, is nearly mauled by an escaped tiger in 19th century London. It was his second birth and an incident that sets his life on a new course amid strange animals, sea voyages and soul rendering decisions.
Jaffy grows while in the service of an exotic animal collector who taps the young man and his fellow employee-friend-rival Tim to hunt down a mythic South Seas dragon.
From the first page to the last, Birch demonstrates a breathtaking command of language. She conjures up absolute magic with her descriptions of both the gruesome and beautiful. We found it was in the scenes of blood, boil and foam that Birch tossed us emotionally. Grabbed us. Scared us.
Birch’s descriptions of the glory of the whale hunt, part of Jaffy’s sea voyage, as well as the discovery and stalk of the muscular, fast mythic dragon were staggering. Her skill at pushing Jaffy into exploratory emotional dives is unparalleled.
Jamrach’s Menagerie is perfectly laid out prose, at times knotted by rapidity. Other times, beautifully exiguous.
Great novels are about timing; as well as being timeless. The story of street urchins and young men returned from the sea have been explored before. But none in the perfect proportions of Jamrach’s Menagerie.
From Birch’s gift for profound structure to beautiful austerity, Jamrach’s Menagerie has it’s timing down perfectly.
And it’s time is now.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch was received for free by Boston Book Bums