Archives for category: Gerald Durrell

Published by Pan Books

I have been a ‘fan’ of Gerald Durrell’s since I was a child and read My Family & Other Animals along with the other natural history books that he wrote. I remember them with great affection, but haven’t read them for a while. Recently a new book has been published, a biography of his family (The Durrells of Corfu / Michael Haag) which I read and in which I found reference to this book, Marrying off Mother & Other Stories by Gerald Durrell – one I knew nothing about.

It contains just eight glorious vignettes of writing. There is a small note at the beginning of the book – A Word in Advance from the author, “All of these stories are true or, to be strictly accurate, some are true, some have a kernel of truth and a shell of embroidery…”

They cover everything from the story of a truffle hunting pig, a butler, and a boat trip, through to the eponymous marital arrangements for Gerald Durrell’s mother. It is not so much the stories, though once more Gerald Durrell has had me laughing out loud, but the use of language – he had a wonderful use of language, and I am only sorry that he died in 1995 – I would have liked to have written to him to tell him how much I enjoy his writing. These stories remind me a little of Saki’s short stories – brilliant observations of people and life.

“She was not ready when she should be, always she did not want to do what he suggested and, sin of sins, she left stockings and brassieres lying about on the floor in her efforts to get dressed quickly. He felt that this last habit, combined with a certain age gap, made the idea of marriage impossible or, if not impossible, suspect. I said I thought that that was exactly what he wanted: someone young, vital, who would argue with him and keep him permanently waist-deep in discarded brassieres and stockings. I said that marriages had been ruined by the wife being too tidy and that many others had been saved by a brassiere being dropped at the right moment…”

“My creatures, each in its own way, abused me, reviled me, slandered me and condemned me out of hand for being five minutes late with their food. But gradually their ferocious criticism of my callousness died away to give place to the contented champing of jaws, the slushing of frit and the cracking of nuts…”

“She was a small, fragile woman whose skin, at the throat, hung in folds and pleats like a curtain. Her face was a network of fine wrinkles like a relief map of the mouth of some great river. Her nose was prominent and arched like an eagle’s beak. Her eyes were blue, a muzzy, watery blue, like faded periwinkles, and in the left one she wore a monocle tethered by a long piece of watered ribbon….”

This is an adult book – or perhaps a young adult. My Family and other Animals should be read by everyone – and has its own post on this blog. I shall presently write another for The Durrells of Corfu (Haag) – to complete the ‘set’ – that too is an Adult book, perhaps in some ways more than this. It does contain photographs which could be said to be a little revealing.

Sadly I have tried to copy the cover of this book onto the post – but it refuses to come – so I have resorted to the above image of Gerald Durrell – the book has a picture of a blue lake with a building in the middle, and some boats to the side. Its not a large book by any means…but the contents are delicious.





Various publishers have produced editions of this over the years. Macmillan though have just published a lovely little hardback – all edges gilt, in their Macmillan Collectors Library collection, with nice endpapers, pale blue cloth boards, with blind blocking on the front and a dust jacket…

This could be my favourite book. It is beautifully written, funny, an extraordinary observation of an English family abroad, full of natural history and animals. It makes me laugh every time I read it and it is a pure piece of pleasure for me. I have several copies. I don’t have one to read in the bath, or to read without too much care in the garden, however, and must buy a cheep copy for that purpose.

The BBC recently did a series based on the volume. The characters were almost perfect, but what happened in the film didn’t bare much relation to that in the book. Which wasn’t to be expected, but don’t rely on what you saw being an indication of what you will experience when you read it.

Should you not be aware Gerald Durrell collected animals from the age of about 2 – and grew up to be one of the greatest naturalists and conservationists of the 20th Century; setting up the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and the zoo on the same island.

This volume is about a short period he and his family made to Corfu when he was aged about 10. It is about the people of the island, the animals, the island itself and of course his family. It is superb.

The animals included in the story include the following:

Roger, Gerald’s faithful dog, who travelled with the family to Corfu. Caterpillars, nameless, who also travelled to the island, transported in a jam jar. Widdle and Puke, two puppies given to Gerald for his birthday…crab-spiders, earwigs, a pigeon called Quasimodo, rose-beetles, a tortoise named Achilles, trap-door spiders, and oil beetles…amongst others, not including the scorpion, that was central to such a wonderful episode in the book that always makes me laugh till I cry.

All of which give a wonderful back ground to the story of Larry, Leslie, Margo, Gerald and of course his mother, Spiro, Lugaretzia and Theodore – and that’s without mentioning Larry’s various friends who arrive regularly and en-mass to add to the confusion.

It is a very English book – and is marvellous.

One day I shall have to purchase a first edition – if I can find one that is signed, that will be all the better.

If you haven’t read this, then, you really should.