Friday, 30 July 2010

Book review: "The Corfu Trilogy," by Gerald Durrell

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I really feel like I need a holiday, and it's all Gerald Durrell's fault. A couple of years ago I read "My Family and Other Animals," and I've been meaning to read the next two in the trilogy ever since. I finally got around to borrowing "Birds, Beasts and Relatives" and "Garden of the Gods" from the library.

"Birds, Beasts and Relatives," begins at a Durrell family gathering. "My Family and Other Animals" has already been published, and they are reminiscing about their time in Corfu. They come to the conclusion that Gerry had left out some of the funniest anecdotes - and they are horrified to find that he agrees with them, and was planning to write a further book. They all fear that the incidents of which they are most ashamed will be outed - and they are.

We therefore find ourselves once again immersed in the world of animal-obsessed Gerry, gun-mad Leslie, acne and puppy-fat prone Margo with a tendency towards hysterics and malapropisms, artistic Larry and their slightly absent-minded mother. To the established cast of local characters like the ubiquitous Spiro (in my head, always played by Brian Blessed) and fount of all knowledge, Theodore, Gerald Durrell adds an assortment of motley characters. Highlights are Margo's association with the marvellously named spiritualist Mrs Haddock, whospeaksratherlikethis...Whaaaha, and Mrs Durrell's unwanted, lecherous suitor, Captain Creech.

I think my childhood was happy enough, but I still find myself envious of his. I would return from a day at work and wish that I could have spent my day in the idyllic countryside of Corfu observing the wildlife. I am not sure that I would swap my childhood memories for his, but I would certainly swap a day at work for a day of exploring Corfu. I don't share his insect interests (I'm a bit put off to realise that Corfu has tarantulas and, yes, I watch "QI" so I am well aware that a spider is not actually an insect), but I would certainly envy him a day on the Bootle Bumtrinket - his temperamental boat, built by his brother - observing sea life with his dogs, Roger, Widdle and Puke.

As a caveat, however, there is an acquisitional element to his childhood exploits - taking birds eggs, removing baby animals from their mother - that I feel slightly uncomfortable with in this age of environmental ethics. I am aware though that I do him a disservice by judging his actions against today's standards. This discomfort with Gerry removing animals from their natural habitat is tempered by an awareness that I am judging a child by adult values, as well as my knowledge that he became a great and influential conservationist.

Gerald Durrell is a very natural writer - in all senses of the word - and, as you would expect, his descriptions of wildlife are particularly vivid. His observations of animal (and human) behaviour are rendered in beautiful, intricate detail. His Corfu is a paradise of abundance, fertile olive groves and seas rich with exotic life - and he is possibly their best tourist ambassador. As long as you aren't scared of insects.

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