In July …

I spent some time in Paris.

With books.

Monsier Montespan by Jean Teulé –  An interesting book. A very different take on French history. A great book for somebody, but not really the book for me.

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro: Not the book I expected, but something much more interesting. And utterly intriguing.

The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola: The book for which the expression flawed but fabulous was invented. I’m still pondering which Zola to read next.

With music.

From Charlotte Gainsbourg, from Novelle Vague, and from Françoise Hardy.

But I didn’t spend as much time in Paris as I had intended.

I was distracted by Orange July.

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – I picked this one up and put it down a few times before I made it through. A great book, but definitely a book that needs the right moment.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer – I’ve been progressing slowly through this one, and I have to say that it is quite wonderful.

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – It was love, quite against my expectations.

There were other books too. I can’t read to plan too much, I have to read the books that call.

The  Crime Fiction Alphabet came to an end.

And I’ve had one or two other distractions. Job hunting. A home study course to bring me a little more up to date in one or two areas. A battle with BT to get our phone line fixed. Life …

But now it’s August – my month for getting organised!

I’ve already boxed up all of my outgoing books and put them on ReadItSwapIt and I’ve reorganised my bookcase of Virago Modern Classics and made sure they are all recorded on LibraryThing.

Bibliotherapy can come in many different forms!

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

An extraordinary cover!

As soon as I saw it I knew that it just had to hold adventure, colour, drama … many great wonders … didn’t it?

Yes, it did!

‘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.’

The words were just as compelling. And yet I started and stopped, started again and stopped more than once, before I finally read the book right through.

Because this is a book that requires the right moment, the right mindset. Because the words are as vivid, as colourful as that cover, describing every sight, every sound, every smell … every single sensation.

It’s powerful, but sometimes its too much.

In 1857, on the streets of London, young Jaffy Brown comes face to face with an escaped tiger. It is an encounter that will change his life.

The animal’s owner, Mr Jamrach, traveller, menagerie-owner and dealer in the extraordinary creatures, is impressed by Jaffy’s handling of the situation, and offers him a job.

For a while Jaffy works at the menagerie, but that is just the beginning. He is offered the chance to go to sea, to join the expedition searching for the rarest creature of them all.

At first it is an adventure, but the voyage becomes a nightmarish struggle for survival.

I lived through the adventure and the nightmare. It was exciting, it was painful, and at times I had to look away. It was too dark, too painful.

I saw how little man understands nature and the world around him, though he thinks he does. How small man is in the scheme of things, though he thinks that he is big. How much damage he can do.

I saw human nature at its best and at its worst. I saw friendship, camaraderie, rivalry, superstition, fear, the survival instinct …

It was incredible, it was horrible at times, and yet I believed every word.

And I can understand why Jamrach’s Menagerie has beguiled the judges of the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize.

It is a coming of age story, an adventure story, a story of Victorian England, like nothing else I have ever read.

Maybe an Orange … or two … or three …

I’m loving Paris in July, but I haven’t forgotten that this is Orange July too.

This year’s longlist and shortlist didn’t excite me a t first, but the more I thought and the more I read the more interested I was. And now I have two longlisted books in progress:

  • I have been slowly making my way through The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer for a while now. It’s a book that I needed to read slowly, but I think I will turn the final page this month.
  • Though I didn’t care for her earlier books, I gave Jennifer Egan the benefit of the doubt and ordered A Visit From The Goon Squad from the library.  Three chapters in, I have to say I’m impressed.

And I have more books on hand, some of my own and some on the library pile.

Here they are:

Are there any there that you would recommend?

And are you reading for Orange July?