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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 30 June 2018

"My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell

I read this when I was a child, so long ago that I could remember nothing but the title and the fact that  the writer Laurence Durrell and a taxi driver was involved.

Nowadays this book has become famous again because of the ITV series on the Durrells which has been adapted from this book. This is why I went back to reread the book. I was glad I did.

Although my interest in natural history is rather less than the average person's (I don't even watch wildlife documentaries) the bits about animals are interesting partly because of the anthropomorphisation of them. But that is not the main point of this book. There are two features of this book which make it superlative.

Firstly, there is the brilliant characterisation of a family of eccentrics (and their eccentric friends) who interact in dialogue and events that are some of the funniest I have read. Books are often described as 'laugh out loud. I hardly ever do. With this book I couldn't help laughing. On more than one occasion.

Secondly there is the jaw-droppingly brilliant descriptions.

  • The sea lifted smooth blue muscles of wave as it stirred in the dawn light, and the foam of our wake spread gently behind us like a white peacock's tail. glinting with bubbles. The sky was pale and staying with yellow on the eastern horizon. Ahead lay a chocolate-brown smudge of land, huddled in mist, with a frill of foam at its base. This was Corfu” (p 14)
  • The appearance of a rather pompous judge wearing a wig several times too small.” (p 50)
  • Then he rounded the curve of the road and there was only the pale sky with a new moon floating in it like a silver feather, and the soft twittering of his flute dying away in the dusk.” (p 53)
  • After the swim, my body felt heavy and relaxed, and my skin as though it were covered with a silky crust of salt.” (p 66)
  • Then suddenly the moon, enormous, wine-red, edged herself over the fretted battlement of mountains, and threw a straight, blood-red path across the dark sea. The owls appeared now, drifting from tree to tree as silently as flakes of soot, hooting in astonishment as the moon rise higher and higher, turning to pink, then gold, and finally riding in a nest of stars, like a silver bubble.” (p 145)
  • In a few days small white clouds started their winter parade, trooping across the sky, soft and chubby, long, languorous, and unkempt, or small and crisp as feathers, and driving them before it, like an ill-assorted flock of sheep, would come the wind.” (p 182)

But it is the characters who make the book come alive:
  • Larry, the writer, eternally asserting his own intellectual superiority, with a wonderful line in stupendously rude put-downs: 
    • With a point of view as limited as yours, you can hardly expect me to listen to it.” (p 55) 
    • Why should we have to fall all over the old hag because she's a relation, when the really sensible thing to do would be to burn her at the stake?” (p 198) 
    • You are always ready with the apt platitude to sum up a catastrophe. How I envy you your ability to be inarticulate in the face of Fate.” (p 242)
  • Lesley the man of action, eternally keen on guns and shooting, who builds a boat for Gerry: “the sounds of sawing, hammering, and blasphemy floated round from the back veranda.” (p 163)
  • Margo, always looking for love, always getting things wrong: “before you go throwing stones you should look for the beam in your eye.” (p 254)
  • Mother, forever trying to make the piece, and always finding nice spots to be buried in.
  • Spiro, the taxi driver and incredible Mr Fix-It, stealing goldfish for Gerry from the King of Greece’s Corfu residence, and pluralising all his words: “Whys donts yous have someones who can talks your own language?” (p 24)
  • Theo the fellow naturalist, with a fine line in puns. Talking about a black-headed gull he says that “all the nice gulls love a sailor” (p 296) and then says these birds can be “terribly gullible” (p 297)

A magical memoir. June 2018; 308 pages

If you enjoy it don't ignore the other two books in the trilogy. They're just as funny:

Another, perhaps even better, memoir of Greek Island life, this time on Symi in the Dodecannese, is Bus Stop Symi by William Travis.

Other memoirs reviewed in this blog include (in order of how much I enjoyed them, favourites first):
  • Memoir of the Bobotes: by Joyce Cary: a brilliantly written memoir of the author's time as a medical officer during the Balkan Wars (pre World War I): the writer became a novelist and his craft shows; full of humour and keen observation
  • My Family and Other Animals (and the sequels) by Gerald Durrell: Beautiful descriptions and hilarious accounts of an eccentric family living on the Greek Island of Corfu between WWI and WWII
  • A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble: a well-written, frequently humourous account of Pacific paradise
  • Bus Stop Symi by William Travis: the account of three years spent on the remote and at the time unspoilt Greek island of Symi: well-written, charming and amusing
  • Surprised by Joy by C S Lewis: an account of the famous author's life, mostly from the perspective of his Christianity: beautifully written
  • A Death in the Family by Karl-Ove Knausgard: the first volume of a series in which the author, in the guise of writing novels, portrays real people with real names: the writing is brilliant
  • Beautiful People by Simon Doonan: The story of a young gay man: well-written with moments of marvellous humour
  • Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the third volume in the series that started with Angela's Ashes
  • The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles: a reasonably well-written account of a year spent living in Venice
  • A Detail on the Burma Front by Winifred Beaumont: a nurse's story from one of the theatres of World War II: more compassion and humour: reasonably well-written
  • Whatever Happened to Margo: Margaret Durrell's account of running a boarding house in Bournemouth: sometimes muddled but often funny
  • Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two by Maggie Smith-Bendell: an interesting and reasonably well-written account of a Romani Gypsy childhood
  • Not for the faint-hearted by John Stevens: the autobiography of a senior police officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story
  • Forty Years Catching Smugglers by Malcolm Nelson: the memoirs of a senior customs officer; probably best for those most interested in this sort of story

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