03/11/2008

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (by Gerald Durrell)

I do like Gerald Durrell's writing, particularly the stories of his childhood in Corfu, of which 'My Family and Other Animals' is his first and best-known work. Durrell's main passion in life was the animal kingdom; he was a naturalist and eventually a zoo-keeper, neither of which would interest me at all in the normal way. But his style of writing is excellent: instructive without being dull, and often very amusing.

I first read 'Birds, Beasts and Relatives' during my teens, and have probably re-read it at least once since then. Recently I decided I wanted something light to read, so I've been reading this for the past few days. It's not the kind of gripping literature that means I can barely put down, but it's ideal a relaxing chapter or two at the end of the day.

This book charts further incidents in the life of Gerry's family when they lived in Corfu in the late 1930s. Life was relatively simple, people could be trusted, and while he casually refers to the locals as 'peasants', he considers them his friends rather than being in any way inferior. I'm sure there was considerable poetic license taken in the recalling of family discussions and eccentricities, but the lifestyle and environment certainly seem to be recorded accurately.

There are some wonderful incidents involving Larry, the eldest of the family, and his bizarre friends, always made welcome by the inexhaustible Mother. She flaps around after her brood slightly helplessly at times, but provides vast amounts of food at regular intervals, and deals remarkably well with Gerry's bizarre menagerie, consisting of insects, sea-life and amphibians, as well as dogs, birds and even a donkey.

Gerry meets some remarkable people, describes in minute detail various incidents in the lives of his creatures, and gives us some classic cross-conversational humour with his family and friends. I did find some of the natural history descriptions slightly lengthy in places, and skimmed a paragraph or two; however it was important not to skim too much, or I might have missed something significant.

All in all, very enjoyable. It's not necessary at all to have read 'My Family and Other Animals' first, but it does give the background that is assumed in this book.

While this has been in print regularly, and can often be found second-hand, it isn't always available new. Better value may be the 'Corfu Trilogy', now published as a single omnibus edition.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 3rd November 2008

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