This is a very compelling page-turner that you won't want to put down and will leave you drained, horrified and an emotional wreck. In brief, a must nominee for your next book-club read. Oh and it is short-listed for the Man Booker 2011.
Now with that said and out the way I can explain why I started the review this way. Had I known the subject matter of the book prior to reading the book itself it probably would have remained on the bookstore's shelf for others to enjoy and for moi to miss out. And this, I think, is any a good time to confess to a horrific reality: I hate the story Moby Dick. There, I've said it. I find it morbid beyond morbid and although based on certain historical facts there has always been something alienating and disconnecting and dare-I-say- boring about it. I apologize to all and might as well add too that I found the movie equally boring too.
That said, although Jamrach's Menagerie is both about men at sea whaling (hence the Moby Dick mention above) and their days at sea I still thought it was brilliant. Another thing is that it is partly based on two historical truths which I will not reveal to you here but once I read about in the acknowledgements made the story even more fascinating if not downright horrific. I hope it does the same for you.
The novel is about Jaffy Brown, a boy destined for great things living in the slums of Victorian London who is "born twice. First in the wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began." Before he knows it he is boarding a ship for the Indian Ocean with his friend Tim at his side. What happens next is an adventure beyond their wildest imagination.
I like this book on several levels. As you know I live in London, very close to Greenwich which is home to the Cutty Sark Clipper. I am also fascinated by the West India Company's history and the voyages of 19th Century whale ships so you get how this novel was a real pleasure. Well-researched and with a penchant for description and detail the imagery, sounds and smells are all too real. A mention of the Lascars was the cherry on the top.
A word of warning: this book is not for the faint hearted and some parts are there to haunt you forever and mark my word they will. Oh and did I mention that it is short-listed for the Man Booker 2011?