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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

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

"Whatever happened to Margo?" by Margaret Durrell

The Durrell family lived on Corfu before the second world war. Their adventures are told in Gerald Durrell's Corfu trilogy: My Family and Other Animals, Birds Beasts and Relatives, and The Garden of the Gods. After the war Margo, divorced and with two young boys, returned to Bournemouth and set up a boarding house. This describes the antics of her and her guests during the first year of operation.

As with her brother, she has an eye for eccentric characters and there are some very funny episodes. Fat boy Nelson leads her sons into mischief, breeds mice for money, prises pebbledash from her walls for his catapult, and pops up at every inopportune moment for knowing comments about the tangled romantic adventures of the adults around him. Mr and Mrs Budden have a baby which isn't surprising given the extent of Mr Budden's prize-bull-like qualities. Trainee nurses Blanche and Judy have a string of boyfriends that make the neighbours suggest that Margo is running a brothel. Barry (ex RAF) can only find a summer job on the beach while his wife Paula works in a shoe shop. Andy, whom Margo fancies like mad, plays jazz trombone whilst his painting room mate Roger, allegedly the illegitimate offspring of a Lord and a Chorus Girl, attracts all the women despite the presence of girlfriend Magda who seems to be turning into a man. Add a madwoman upstairs and this is a menagerie to rival any on Corfu. The mayhem only increases when Gerald visits and leaves a cage of monkeys who, inevitably, escape.

The book is also interesting for its social commentary. So many people after the war lived in digs like this, sharing rooms and bathrooms. I suppose this continues to some extent in the house sharing arrangements of students and young workers in cities across the UK today, although the landlords are rarely on the premises nowadays. And married couples aspire wherever possible to their own home. There is also the double standards about sex. This clearly continues unabated in the lodging house but it is surreptitious and there is a general air of disapproval.

The author indulges herself in the long descriptions which her brother excels at. But sometimes she seems to muddle herself in excessively long sentences and her desire to use original adjectives and adverbs can result in them being misapplied. Sometimes I got lost:

  • When "Gerald returned to compete with Harriet for pride of ownership" (p 208) I was unsure what they owned.
  • When "the coarse, gangling bricklayer, who cursed his wife when displeased and dabbled at unconventional hours with groaning copulation, appeared blatantly with bloodshot eyes and swollen face and the satisfied look of a mated bull" (p 92) the extensive phrase (not even a sentence) is stuffed to bursting with adjectives and adverbs but I am not sure of 'gangling' in the context of a bull nor 'dabbled' in the context of 'groaning copulation' nor whether it might be possible to appear non-blatantly.
  • There is an interesting play on words on page 203 between "give her a piece of my mind" and "Mother's peace of mind" but I am not convinced it is deliberate.
  • "I found myself following eagerly, watched with open concern a furry thing follow the reptiles to the kitchen and Nelson wishing that he had mice to sell for fodder again." (p 225) The reptiles belong to Gerald although I don't know what they are. The 'furry thing' is never explained: Gerald himself? A cat? Does she mean that she "watched ... Nelson wishing"? And why is 'eager' following triggered by concern?  

But there are some nice phrases:
"One became very conscious of the old in the southern paradise, especially of old ladies - a living graveyard." (p 27)
"He sat up to examine his toenails carefully, his breath caught up in a roll of rippling fat." (p 190)
"Any minute he would return home caked in dust, shouting for attention and food: for why had he wasted seven shillings and sixpence? Not for the sole purpose of free copulation: the working man must be fed!" (p 196 -197) We are never told what the 7/6d is for; my guess is that it was the cost of a marriage licence in 1947.
"I must never use water on me vulnerable skin parts" (p 258)

September 2018; 258 pages

Other memoirs reviewed in this blog include (in order of how much I enjoyed them, favourites first):
Autobiographies of men who have achieved:
  • 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
  • Life in exotic islands:
  • 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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