The intensity, the deep feeling, the strong relationships, the joys, the horrors, the experiences, the adventures are all described so wonderfully by the author through the senses of Jaffy Brown in the first person, that I shall not even attempt to tell you about them. You need to read the book for yourself.
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I cannot imagine how good the eventual winner must’ve been in the eyes of the judges to have beaten Jamarach’s Menagerie.
Towards the end, I was beginning to think of alternative titles for the book. Jaffy’s Oceans or The Long Voyage of Jaffy Brown came to mind, but I suppose that the title is appropriate, as it all started when eight year-old Jaf Brown stroked the nose of a Bengal tiger which had broken loose from Jemrach’s Menagerie and he was carried off by the magnificent beast. This incident is based on fact. The rest of the story is mostly based on fiction.
I can’t tell you the other fact without ruining the reading for you. But I’ll tell you about one if the early events which told me that I was going to love this book.
On the day following the tiger incident, Mr Jamrach sent his “boy”, Tim, round to find Jaffy and to buy him a raspberry puff. Jaffy had never sampled raspberry or cream or puff pastry in his eight years on Earth. The description of his happiness as he enjoys his first bite of this wonderful experience is guaranteed to make you enjoy it with him. How far from his previous life of scraping through the stinking sewers of Bermondsey could be this new joy?
There he [Tim] stood with his hands in his pockets and watched me eat the raspberry puff. The first bite was so bitterly sweet the corners if my mouth ached. So beautiful, a film of tears stung my eyes. Then the pain dispersed and there was only delight.”
Tim eventually becomes Jaffy’s very best friend, and that friendship has its ups and downs. Some of them are very severe. I suppose one could argue that Tim’s sister, Ishbel, becomes Jaffy’s best friend, but I am not about to enter a debate on the matter, because it doesn’t really matter.
Be warned that there are some very moving, sad parts to this story. If you are not careful, you could end up joining melancholics anonymous before you’re finished, but you should read it. You will not regret it.