Booker Prize Challenge 2011 – Part One – Jamrach’s Revenge

Okay. So the book is actually called Jamrach’s Menagerie, but for some reason whenever I think of it I always hear it in my mind as ‘revenge’. I suspect this is because I’m desperately trying to inject some excitement into this really rather dull book. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

I’m a slow reader. I work in a library and love books deeply. I think books make my life, and the world, a much better place to be, but I read slowly, and I don’t have time to read all the books I’d like to. So a hell of a lot of books sit in a pile half read beside my bed. I can’t help it.

So I thought, how about a challenge to inspire me to increase the size of the pile of unread books that haunts my literary life? The challenge is to attempt to read all of the Booker Prize shortlist books, between the announcement of the list, and the actual award winning. This way, I will feel like I could actually have an opinion on the prize (which would be nice), and also make me a bit more up to date with what great books are coming out at the moment.

It’s a simple plan; or at least it should be.

But it’s already stuffed, especially if I take finishing the books as my goal.

If we count forming a strong opinion, then we’re fine.

I really didn’t like Jamrach’s Menagerie, despite seeing a lot of potential. Carol Birch takes us to a dirty and evocative nineteenth century London, following the narrator on experiences with the wild creature trader Jamrach and his eventual voyage across the sea hunting dragons.

The opening pages are incredibly sensual, and with a strong sense of voice. You feel instantly covered in the dirt and grime of alleys around the Thames, and the introduction quickly wraps you up in it.

But it doesn’t last. It quickly shows itself up as a romanticised historicism and the prose becomes limp and unengaging. The plot grinds onwards without making any of the characters feel fully fleshed out. There are moments of emotional engagement, and a few touching pieces of dialogue, but the world never feels real enough, and the narrator only occasionally feels like he belongs to the era he’s describing. The book only briefly manages to give a more authentic feel for sea travel than the Pirates of the Caribeann films.

I didn’t get on with it. I ploughed on for 150 pages (largely because it was the only book I had left on my holiday) but found it increasingly hard work.

I can’t speak for the whole book, but after a promising introduction I found this utterly bland.

Anyway, that’s only my opinion (and it’s not worth a huge amount, as its just not my sort of book), so let’s hear what you think. Anyone?

Alex, Library Officer

If you want to see for yourself and prove Alex wrong, you can reserve the book on the library catalogue here.

About Alex

Digital comms officer
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