Philip Womack

Jaffy Abroad

Jamrach’s Menagerie

By

Canongate 348pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Carol Birch’s eleventh novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is a rich and strange tale, haunted by fate, the sea, visions, insanity and the apparent cruelty of Providence. Its language is full of invention as it follows the life of little Jaffy Brown, who is ‘born twice’.

The first time is the actual moment when he enters the world, squealing and mewling, to become one of the urchins who scrambles through the sewers of nineteenth-century Bermondsey in search of the merest object of value. The second time is when Jaffy sees a tiger in the street: ‘The Sun himself came down and walked on earth.’ His life has been so limited that he barely knows what a tiger is; believing it to be some sort of cat, he walks up to it to stroke its nose. Fortunately for Jaffy, the tiger has just eaten and its owner, the titular Jamrach, is on hand to rescue him from certain death.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Since Dylan’s commercial and ideological heyday, the intrusion of sociology, semiology and post-structuralist thou… ,
    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,