I've tried not to write any spoilers in this review, but it is definitely difficult to explain why I disliked it without them. Fair warning: this is slightly scathing.
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is one of those books where I really would like to know what the judges for the Man Booker Prize were thinking when they picked it over 100 other contenders to be longlisted for the prize for 2011. That's why I read it.
Parts of it have promise. The story starts with this young boy, Jaffy, who lives at the very edge of the Thames river, described uncomfortably well, in a way only rivaled by Stephen King. (Good but not good! It puts you there, in a way you would never want to be!) Jaffy has a run-in with a tiger and ends up working for Jamrach's Menagerie, thus the title of the book. To me, these were the interesting bits, unfortunately, they only took the first quarter of the book or so.
Then the author sends Jaffy off on a whale ship, partly to hunt down a "dragon" for the menagerie. Even this was okay, if a bit overdone. Quest! Whaling! The adventure of the sea! *yawn* (I sense that the Booker judges are craving adventure?) The hunt for the dragon was exciting, but I was starting to lose interest. I don't want to spoil the last third of the book but it goes down a path I never wanted to experience. When an author has to resort to such a level, I wonder if there was even a story to tell in the first place. It seems like a cop-out. READER BEWARE.
I wouldn't put this on the shortlist. I wouldn't have put it on the long list! I guess we'll find out tomorrow whether or not the judges agree with me.
Of the longlisted novels I read, and I only got through about half, I'd select the following for the short list:
Far to Go
The Sisters Brothers: A Novel (even though I didn't like it, I expect them to)
That leaves space for two more! And who knows what I would say if I'd read the entire list.