Two from my book club

>> Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I've discovered some amazing books through my book club, but for the last couple of months, not so much.

TITLE: Jamrach's Menagerie
AUTHOR: Carol Birch

I read this one for my April book club meeting. It tells the story of Jaffy Brown, whom we meet as a little boy, running around the slums of London, patting an escaped tiger on the nose. Rescued by the tiger's owner, Mr. Jamrach, he's given a job in the man's menagerie. Some years later, Jaffy follows his friend, colleague and rival, Tim, onto a whaling ship, where they're to help an explorer who's been commissioned to find a dragon in the jungles of Borneo.

This is one of those books. I could see it was good and I even enjoyed bits of it (the descriptions and the way they make Jaffy's world come alive, are fabulous), but it was really not my cup of tea. For most of the book, I just didn't care what happened. It's part Oliver Twist, part Moby Dick, and part Alive, and it was only near the end of that last part that something happened that got through. That scene (trying to be cryptic here, it's Tim and Jaffy's final scene together) finally pierced the thick, cloudy glass through which it had felt I was reading, and made me really feel. Too little, too late, though.


TITLE: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
AUTHOR: Jonas Jonasson

This one I read for our May meeting. The centenarian who pulls the eponymous vanishing act is Alan Karlsson, who's had enough of the rules and regulations of his retirement home. He shuffles to the bus station in his slippers and decides to board the first bus he sees, which he does, with a young thug's suitcase in tow. Turns out the suitcase contains a lot of cash, and soon the thug, his gang and the police are after Allan and the friends he picks up along the way. And interspersed with that caper, we get flashback chapters, narrating Allan's eventful and peripatetic life. Forrest Gump-like, Allan managed to be present at some of the 20th century most significant moments and to affect them all.

This one didn't work for me at all. Basically, every single character in this book is a sociopath. None of them, and especially Allan, cared one whit about the effects of their actions on other people. They can't seem to conceive of others as real. I thought at first that it would just be Allan who was that way, and I was fine with it. It's not uncommon for really old people to stop giving a shit. But no, Allan had been like that all his life. His complete lack of regard for the political big picture going on around his running around is supposed to be charming and funny, but I didn't see the humour in it. Hah-hah, Allan defected from the Republicans to Franco's forces! Oh, how funny, then his friend's wife stole the election and sent all her political oponents to jail! Call me humourless, but I wasn't laughing, and the whimsical, light tone made me grit my teeth.

It wasn't funny, it was juvenile and tedious, and I wanted pretty much every character to die. Except for the elephant. I liked the elephant.



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