Monday, 27 February 2012

February Book Club - Jamrach's Menagerie

Our February book choice was the Man Booker Prize nominee Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch. This caused quite a lively discussion with the controversial issues covered in the book!

Did we like the book?A split response with some of us enjoying the book, and others not so sure. We agreed that we liked the distinctive writing style, but some of the scenes were difficult to read with the graphic violence.

We agreed the book was split into three parts of Jaffy's adventure: 1) what did we lean about Victorian London, 2) Which sea-faring stories did the ocean adventure remind us of and 3) How would you cope with being stranded for so long?
1) We all liked the descriptions of Victorian London and it reinforced our image of a dark, gloomy and grim time to be living in. This part reminded us of a Charles Dicken's novel, in particular Great Expectations, as young Jaffy is involved in an incident and is given the opportunity which changes his life forever. We found attitudes towards women and animals very interesting.
2) The time on The Lysander felt very familiar to us with hints of Moby Dick, Treasure Island, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Life of Pi to name a few. The whaling scene was hard to stomach for all of us.
3) We agreed that we could never be sure how we would react in a situation like being stranded for so long, but could understand why the characters turned to such extreme measures to survive.

How did the author use the senses to convey imagery? Which was the strongest for you?
I found the sense of smell the recurring theme in this novel, from Jaffy's early days in Ratcliffe Highway to the smell of burning flesh. These were so strong to me, I could really get a sense of the surroundings. Others in the group felt sight, touch, taste and hearing just as strong. We could all see clearly what Jaffy was describing, could feel the salt clinging to them on the sea and could imagine the taste of the cups of blood. We also found the rhythm of the prose interesting, in particular one scene when something gruesome is happening to a crew member and Dan is making Jaffy and Tim sing a song, which is really effective in making you read the passage at a faster pace.

How does the author use foreshadowing?
There were a couple of scenes which stood out for us. Firstly, the initial scene of Jaffy meeting the tiger. We know he is going to be a survivor and that this will be the turning point in his life. The key scene is when the crew come across the dragons eating one of their own group. They are all disgusted, but they end up doing the same thing when the animal, survival instinct kicks in. We also discussed Skip's visions and were not sure if he really did have the sight, or if he suffered from a form of autism.

What did you think of the title?
We found it strange that the book was named after a character who does not appear very often, but agreed it was a huge part of Jaffy's life and the reason for his adventure. We came up with some alternative titles such as Stroking Tiger, Hunting Dragon, Laughter in the Deep, The Dragon's Revenge and The Angels in the Sky.

We had come across some alternative book covers, which one did we think was a true representation of the book?
We found the cover at the top of this blog to be very misleading, as the cover looks very 'pretty and magical'. We were expecting a quirky adventure rather than the gritty themes that were explored in the novel. We think the covers with a tiger's mouth are much more suited as they look more dangerous and dramatic.

Do you see Jaffy as the hero of the novel?
We really liked the character of Jaffy and think he dealt with his situations well. We think it is better to call him a survivor rather than a hero.

What did we think of the other main characters? Tim, Jamrach, Dan and Skip?
We did not like Tim and felt that his last act was selfish rather than him redeeming himself. We found it interesting that Jaffy describes Tim in such a favourable way with his blonde hair and angelic looks, but his sister who he is romantically involved with, he describes as dirty and with no finger nails. We really liked Dan and the way he looked under the young boys. He was the true captain of the ship. Skip was very interesting and our views varied from annoying to feeling sorry for his as he was misunderstood.

This novel was not what some of us were expecting, but is a great book to discuss. I would highly recommend it to other book groups!  

1 comment:

  1. I felt that the blurb miss sold the book as well as the cover. It sounded more like an expressionistic voyage of discovery from than what it actually was. I still enjoyed it though (apart from some part...). Think the highlight for me was the dragon hunt as it really got me hooked for that bit.