Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
Described as historical fiction, Jamrach's Menagerie begins in a gritty 19th century London and follows an eight-year-old boy's adventures beginning with a chance encounter with an escaped tiger through a fantastical high-seas journey in search of a mythical dragon. The novel was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.
Reviewer: Ron Charles
"“Jamrach’s Menagerie” is a moving, fantastically exciting sea tale that takes you back to those great 19th-century stories that first convinced you “there is no frigate like a book.”...One of the magical qualities of Birch’s story is that it gives that sense of Dickensian sprawl and scope even though it’s spun in fewer than 300 pages."
Reviewer: Alex Clark
"[Birch] conjures something far stranger and less immediately graspable than a straightforward recitation of facts would allow....When we are eventually returned to Wapping, minus a few fellow-travellers, Birch has spun us a captivating yarn of high seas and even higher drama."
Reviewer: Benjamin Hale
"The spirit is that of a high-seas adventure novel, a Victorian book for boys....As phantasmagoric as the mood of this novel gets, there is nothing in it that steps outside the bounds of reality, for it knows the real world is fantastic enough."
Reviewer: Randy Boyagoda
"The result is the literary equivalent of a wonderful costume drama or summer blockbuster or heaping platter of boneless Buffalo wings: You're happily overwhelmed by the fullness of what's on offer, but at the same time feel a tad disappointed, even guilty, that you didn't have to work very hard to enjoy it."
Reviewer: Matthew Sweet
"This is not a novel of ideas. Beyond an uninsistent comparison between the lives of Victorians and giant monitor lizards, it does not contain any obvious thesis....The novel is a vehicle for the delivery of somatic shocks to the reader’s brain. It might be the classiest penny dreadful in the history of literature, but this is not to denigrate Birch’s work."