Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical tale, set in Corfu, was instrumental in spurring my adolescent penchant for catching reptiles on the heaths of south east England. It is a fantastically woven tale of Durrell’s childhood in which he never fails to poke fun at the character flaws of his family members.
The story begins in England with the Durrell family, made up of Gerald’s mother, sister, and two brothers. Gerald’s eldest brother, Larry, complains that the ailments from which each of the family members are suffering could be cured by a move to warmer climes. Winning the debate with his mother, Larry convinces her and the family to up and move to Corfu, which they promptly do.
On the island, Corfu’s abundance of native critters helps Gerald to realise his love for animals. He acquires a tortoise and his tutor, George, integrates zoology into his curriculum, fuelling his fire for nature even further. Throughout the story, Gerald accumulates a variety of animal companions, from his dog to a matchbox full of scorpions. These serve to create varying degrees of havoc at different points in the book which all add to the humour of the story.
The humorous elements of the story are perhaps furthered by no character more than Spiro, and his colourful language. Spiro is the taxi driver who saves the family from droves of his Greek compatriots at the beginning of the story and becomes a strong family friend to the Durrells. He is never far from those parts of the narrative which are most comical and I guarantee you will love him!
There are a plethora of other individuals in the book who also make for strong influences on the story. Leslie, the second eldest brother with a love of firearms, provides one of my favourite moments in the entire work, when he drives Margo’s temporary companion, one of Gerald’s tutors, from the family villa with the threat of shooting him upon any potential return. It is genuinely very comical, notwithstanding the connotations which this part of the story might have if the particulars were to come out in the world today.
I will spare further details of the book, but I could write in a lot more detail should anyone so wish. Gerald Durrell builds this story brilliantly and that is why it became a staple bedtime story in my early years, and a book I read regularly into my teens. If you’re looking for something lighthearted to read, then this may well be right up your alley!