Carol Birch was born in Manchester in 1951. She studied English and American Studies at Keele University. After her studies she moved to London, where she worked for the English Folk Dance and Song Society for some time, after which there were many other jobs including library and kindergarten work. In London she lived mostly in Waterloo, moving from there with her first husband to South West Ireland. Here they had bought a derelict cottage, which they renovated. This is where her first novel, »Life in the Palace« (1988), was completed. Inspired by her life in a run-down tenement in Waterloo, it received the David Higham Award for the best debut of the year. Her hero, Jimmy Raffo, is one in a series of many male protagonists who Carol Birch also sympathizes with in later works. »He was a very charming loser, in a block of flats in the 70s, and he was going nowhere. He drank too heavily, but God, he could make you laugh. He was like a big kid who had never grown up and I’m still very fond of him.« Her second book »The Fog Line« (1989) also tells about social outcasts, but this time the main character is a woman.
After eight years in Ireland, Carol Birch returned to London. But her “Irish years” clearly influence the themes and motifs of her writing. »Songs of the West« (1994) describes life in a small Irish village, and the interactions between the locals and the ‘blow-ins,’ the incomers bringing new ways. Her historical novel »The Naming of Eliza Quinn« (2005) is set in the time of the great famine in Ireland in the mid-19th century.
»Jamrach’s Menagerie« (2011) is Carol Birch’s eleventh book, and deals with the London docklands in the year 1857. One day, fatherless Jaffy, who has grown up in the neighbourhood in need and squalor, meets an escaped tiger. The encounter with the elegant beast triggers dreams of countries far away beyond the ocean. Later, as a young teenager, Jaffy signs on a whaler and sets off to look for a rumoured, semi-legendary dragon in the East Indies. The novel includes a portrait of the Ratcliffe Highway area, a street known as a haven of crime, which leaves the London city centre in an eastern direction. It also refers to Darwin’s natural history, and becomes part of the maritime narrative tradition of Melville’s »Moby Dick« or Patrick O’Brian’s »Post Captain«. Carol Birch’s »Jamrach’s Menagerie« was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. The author lives in Lancaster.
© internationales literaturfestival berlin