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Carol Birch is the author of nine previous novels including Scapegallows and Turn Again Home, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize. She has won the Geoffrey Faber Award and the David Higham Award. She lives in Lancashire.
Author Photo © Martin Butler
One of our Great Reads you may have missed in 2011. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. Shortlisted for the Galaxy UK Author of the Year Award 2011. A Richard and Judy Autumn Read 2011. March 2011 Book of the Month. A touching, charming and funny account of how friendship can develop between the strangest of companions that has been receiving some absolutely incredible but well deserved reviews, one of which particularly stands out from none other than A S Byatt - ‘One of the best stories I’ve ever read . . . A completely original book’ . It's the story of Jaffy Brown who comes face to face with an escaped circus animal as he's minding his own business on a street in London's East End. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach.This bears all the hallmarks of a book that will end up on various book prize shortlists...
Shorlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. Shortlisted for the Galaxy UK Author of the Year Award 2011. March 2011 Book of the Month. A touching, charming and funny account of how friendship can develop between the strangest of companions that has been receiving some absolutely incredible but well deserved reviews, one of which particularly stands out from none other than A S Byatt - ‘One of the best stories I’ve ever read . . . A completely original book’ . It's the story of Jaffy Brown who comes face to face with an escaped circus animal as he's minding his own business on a street in London's East End. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach.This bears all the hallmarks of a book that will end up on various book prize shortlists...
A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden. Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico. She is heralded across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her unusual looks. Yet few can see past her freakish appearance to the ambitious woman within. Orphans of the Carnival sweeps us from the music halls of Vienna to an attic in modern-day South London, playing out an epic tale of grit, love, music and the triumph of the human spirit pushed to extremes.
Young Jaffy Brown never expects to escape the slums of Victorian London. Then, aged eight, a chance encounter with Mr Jamrach changes Jaffy's stars. And before he knows it, he finds himself at the docks waving goodbye to his beloved Ishbel and boarding a ship bound for the Indian Ocean. With his friend Tim at his side, Jaffy's journey will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits.
SHORTLISTED for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for FictionA thrilling and powerful novel about a young boy lured to sea by the promise of adventure and reward, with echoes of Great Expectations, Moby-Dick, and The Voyage of the Narwhal. Jamrach's Menagerie tells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals, alongside Tim, a good but sometimes spitefully competitive boy. Thus begins a long, close friendship fraught with ambiguity and rivalry. Mr. Jamrach recruits the two boys to capture a fabled dragon during the course of a three-year whaling expedition. Onboard, Jaffy and Tim enjoy the rough brotherhood of sailors and the brutal art of whale hunting. They even succeed in catching the reptilian beast. But when the ship's whaling venture falls short of expectations, the crew begins to regard the dragonseething with feral power in its cageas bad luck, a feeling that is cruelly reinforced when a violent storm sinks the ship. Drifting across an increasingly hallucinatory ocean, the survivors, including Jaffy and Tim, are forced to confront their own place in the animal kingdom. Masterfully told, wildly atmospheric, and thundering with tension, Jamrach's Menagerie is a truly haunting novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival.From the Hardcover edition.
Kinnaird Buildings, a tenement block in Waterloo, was once quality. Now ancient and blackened, it houses a fringe community of the feckless, the light-fingered, the addicted, who ignore the thuds and screams, and try to patch something together out of the rags and tatters of their lives. At the centre are Judy, resting from emotional entanglements with men, attempting to resist romantic, wayward Jimmy Raffo; and Loretta, fighting poverty and the brutality of her surroundings.
Anita's mother was the mermaid in the Belle Vue Fair Freak Show. Into their lives came Paddy Riley, a young Irish lad whose motto was 'the only crime in life is not to take up a good opportunity'. The opportunity was Anita's mother - hungry for love and romance. Their secret is safe until young Anita, their go-between, spins a jealous lie that tragically catches them all. Now grown with children of her own, Anita has found a kind of peace with a sweet husband, and the past is past. Until that is, a man not unlike Paddy Riley comes to their town. It's an 'opportunity' that Anita cannot, for the life of her, seem to resist.
She's come to steal my thunder again, hasn't she? Dying, my foot. She's probably just being dramatic. Dying for dramatic effect. She would.' Cathy Wren, aged 37, lives alone in a small northern town, surviving on waitressing and piano teaching. She nurses her quiet drab life, keeping memories of a tumultuous earlier time at bay, until one stray remnant of that old life knocks on her front door. There, standing on her doorstep, in the rain, is Stephen, ex-boyfriend of her younger sister, Veronica Karen. He's come with bad news about her sister and a dogged determination to find her, and he wants Cathy's help. Cathy, who hasn't spoken to Veronica Karen - that thorn in her side - for ten years, is about to find herself on a weird and haphazard journey that turns into much more than a search for her little sister. 'It is in its delicate exploration of the murky ground between objective assessment for life and irrational affection for a person that the novel compels' - TLS
I was born twice. First in 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. 1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London's East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach - explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world's strangest creatures - the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey - if he survives it - will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits. Brilliantly written and utterly spellbinding, Carol Birch's epic novel brings alive the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the docks of London to the storms of the Indian Ocean. This great salty historical adventure is a gripping exploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains.
This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia. A wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole. A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.
This is an extraordinarily haunting novel, inspired by a true story. In the late 1960s, in the hollow of an ancient oak tree beyond a derelict cottage in Cork, were found the bones of a three-year-old girl. It was thought that they dated back to the time of the great potato famine of the mid 1800s. The bones were discovered by an American woman, who had inherited the cottage which had lain empty and broken for forty years. Local searches reveal that the house had originally belonged to The Quinns. Eliza Quinn was their baby. This is a story that speaks of generations and of landscapes: abandoned villages, famine graves, old potato ridges sinking back into the earth, traces of a population that fell by two and a half million in less than ten years. It is also about hunger, both physical and emotional. But above all, it is the story of the Quinn family. And it is Carol Birch's tour de force. 'Deeply rooted humanity and highly intelligent understanding of the simulataneous complexity and simplicity of individual lives' Alex Clark. TLS
Gorton, Manchester. 1930. Greyhound racing at Belle Vue, the buses going up and down Hyde Road, the siren of Peacock's foundry going off every night at six. This is Bessie and Sam Holloway's place, home for Nell and little brother Bobby and older step-child Violet. Precious visits from Dad's sister Benny, a Queen of the music hall trailing clouds of glory and whisky, provide infrequent brushes with glamour. 'Alright for some,' grunts Bessie. Nell grows up to work in a factory and there, from the tailgate of a truck in the yard, she first hears fellow factory worker Harry Caplin play trombone break on the old jazz classic, Clarinet Marmalade. Harry's talent will take him far and introduce him to such jazz legends as Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden; but not as far as poor feckless Bobby, who finds himself fighting in the jungles of Malaya. Spanning the twentieth century, this is a poignant story about a brother and a sister and three generations of a northern working-class family.