A very disturbing book – Jamrach´s Menagerie – Carol Birch

I first heard about this book when they were interviewing the author and AS Byatt on Radio 4´s Open Book.  Byatt said she liked the book, now I don´t know if she was lying because  Carol Birch was there but I hated it and found it really disturbing.  Never has a book  cover description and the accompanying review quotes misrepresented a book so much.  I would challenge the Daily Mail´s `Magical´ adjective with `disgusting´or something like that.

Jaffy Brown lives in the Victorian slums of London and one day at the age of eight he finds himself being rescued from the mouth of a tiger by Jamrach.  Jamrach (a real character) owns a menagerie and Jaffy begins working for him looking after the animals.   As he grows older he decides to join a whale ship on an expedition to the Indian Ocean looking for a dragon (actually a giant lizard, like a crocodile).  From this point things start going wrong.

The book´s description of the killing of a whale was upsetting enough but as it goes on there is horrific cannibalism. Now I know historically these things have happened in times of great hardship and this is actually strangely enough inspired by  true stories, but I like to have a bit of warning that I won´t be able to sleep after reading a book.  I suppose to be positive you could say her descriptions of the sailors decline and actions were so realistic that it made it unreadable, however,  I found myself skimming towards the end to avoid gory descriptions and actually I was a little bit bored.

Parts of this book were interesting such as the journey to the various islands, and maybe I have got it completely wrong but I really found this a bit dull.  How did it get shortlisted for the Booker?


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