Mini Reviews – British Novels

I read a lot of books for class this semester and really fell behind on reviewing them. Considering it has been a while since I read most of these books, I thought I would just do some mini reviews to round out the semester.

This session is about my 20th Century British Novels Class. All books chosen were either Man Booker Prize winners or shortlisters. We tweeted #BritishNovels during class of fun quotes, ideas, etc. The tweets are probably gone by now, but this was a fun and interesting way to shake the class up (it was a three-hour-long night class). I’ll make this a two-parter, because we read eight books. I’ll just do three in this review (considering the fourth novel we read was The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro) and four in the next.

This 192 page historical fiction by Beryl Bainbridge, published by Da Capo Press in 1998, is called Master Georgie. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 1998.

The plot takes place during the Crimean War and follows differing characters through each chapter, leaving the reader to guess at who is narrating. Each successive chapter is a sort of snapshot of an event, based on the use of early camera work and developing photographs.

The story left me a little confused–why are these people in the Crimean War? What the heck is going on with half of the plot? Perhaps if I did a deeper reading, I would “get it,” but in my opinion, the book isn’t worth a deeper reading. Summary: Myrtle is obsessed with Master Georgie.

Mediocre, unknowable characters and a loose plot kept me unimpressed through the entire novel. The only redeemable thing I can recall is a snapshot of one of the young narrators getting in a scuffle with a Russian boy, where neither wants to kill the other, but their language barrier prevents them from saying it out loud, causing someone to die–this part stuck with me. Overall impression: Meh.


Jamrach's Menagerie coverThis 295 page historical fiction by Carol Birch, published by Vintage in 2011, is entitled Jamrach’s Menagerie. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2011.

The story is about young boy — Jaffy — who always knew, even in the womb, that he would be a sailor. He first starts out, however, being caught in a tiger’s mouth which leads to a job at Jamrach’s menagerie working with Tim, who I can only describe as the ultimate frenemy. Jaffy and Tim end up going on a sea adventure to capture a live dragon [sic Komodo dragon] in the East Indies with one of Jamrach’s main men, Dan Ryder.

I don’t want to spoil the book, but if you read the blurb, it will do that for me. Let’s just say, shit goes down. I enjoyed all the turns the book made, even if one of them happened to my stomach. Seriously, if you have a weak stomach, I wouldn’t recommend this.

However, great characters, an incredibly psychological last third of the novel, and interesting themes explored (I wrote my paper about Jaffy being an animal in Jamrach’s menagerie) make this one worth a read. Overall impression: Ew.

The Ghost Road CoverThis 288 page historical (WWI) fiction by Pat Barker, published by First Plume Printing in 1996, is entitled Ghost Road. It is the final book in the Regeneration Trilogy and winner of the 1995 Man Booker Prize.

The plot follows a few characters–William Rivers is psychologically treating soldiers in England, Billy Prior and Wilfred Owen are in the war, and then we also get flashbacks of Rivers in the South Pacific among a tribe with a death culture being repressed by English values.

Besides all the sex in this book, it wasn’t too bad to trudge through. I haven’t read many WWI books and I will probably continue that tradition after reading The Ghost Road. While it had many interesting themes, and I did enjoy Rivers’s flashbacks immensely, the majority of the novel felt a little tedious and slow (sort of like trench warfare, ya, I get it).

Later in the book, Billy Prior has journal entries which saved his character for me, because I didn’t really like him through the beginning of the novel.

Immediately after finishing I wrote this down:
Part 1: 1/5 stars
Part 2: 3/5 stars
Part 3: 2.5/5 stars
Just for reference.

If you like war novels, you’ll probably love this. If you like WWI novels, you will probably adore it. I, however, had to force myself to finish just for the class. Overall impression: Oy, the English should stop being so Imperial and just deal with their own trauma already, JEESH. It was okay.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Mini Reviews – British Novels Part 2 | Realm of Reviews

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